Tag Archives: infographics

Mapping Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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


Republican Blush.png


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


Trump votes normalized choropleth.png

Kenneth Field

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





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

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


clinton_v2-Artboard_6.pngTim Wallace/New York Times

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

Carto Trump.pngMichelle Ho‘s Carto Blog

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

Coutnies.png Carto

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Stretched thing

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

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

hennig skein

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


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

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


Beta News

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


Beta News

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

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


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

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

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

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

North Am Trum Properties.png

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

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


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

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


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

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



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


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


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

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

Trump Mafia.png

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

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


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

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

58681cd31500002f00e9ddcc.jpegPaul Needham (2014)

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

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

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

populous nations.png

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

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

Trump NYC.png

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

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

Fred and Donald.png

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

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

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

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

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

Gold reflective.png

Trump Tower



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

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


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

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:



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.



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.



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.


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:


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.




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.



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:




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:




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.






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.


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

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–



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:




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.






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:




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:



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.





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.




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.




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.



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.




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.




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:




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.)




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

Mapping the Proposed Balkanization of the State California

Timothy C. Draper fondly reminisced that “I grew up in the state that was number one in education, the number one place to do business and the best place to live,” imagining that the division of the state of California into six separate states would return the state–or all of its six new states to be carved from it–to that past by re-mapping it anew.  Persuading us to see the state as a set of discrete regions became a way to urge voters to realize his political strategy to divide California into six cantons of diffrent hues.  He presented the map as a call to generate support for his map to renewed economic prosperity–using a color scheme across the full spectrum to underscore differences between each region.

New Map of California


Draper’s initiative to “divide” California into six California’s–six separate states–picks up the inventive cartographies of division that partition the United States into more “rational” or “reasonable” mega-regions, macro-states, or mini-countries, and betrays what little sense he has of the environmental or ecological status of the state.  His proposal stands at odds to how, back in 1837, the German-American jurist Franz Lieber famously doubted that merely altering hues of any map could affect its political economy. He doubted that “the face of our country would change” as a result, and saw little impact for changing a map’s color-scheme, and hoped that “if the engravers were able to sell their maps less boisterously painted and not as they are now, each county of each state in flaming red, bright yellow, or a flagrant orange dye arrayed, like the cover produced by the united efforts of a quilting match.”  Lieber studied topographic mapping in Dresden before coming to America, and meant to contrast realities of political economy with the coloration of maps–probably contrasting the four-color maps of the United States to those of Prussia with his Berlin-trained mind’s eye; the flagrant color-scheme of a map, however, becomes a device for Draper to urge that we remake the State of California into six “political entities” that most of those living in them wouldn’t actually recognize.

By converting California to six cantons, the hope is to remake the state as six more manageable mega-regions to bridge perceived distances between government and Californians.  Draper represents the remapping of the state as a means to reconnect its residents to a model of good government in something of an extension of the argument of states’ rights.  The graphical division of the Golden State into six entities, maxi-regions or mini-states, each emptied of local meaning and purged of cities, provides the rallying cry of the venture capitalist’s movement for the May 2016 ballot, having gained over 1.3 million signatories of in-state residents at the time of its submission in mid-July–and of a charge that Draper hopes would open up the possibility that other states follow the lead of his movement to break into separate states as well.  Perhaps the initiative isn’t motivated by the desire to make one state in charge of border control, or break off West California [to] include much of what most Americans think of as stereotypical California – L.A.’s tangle of freeways, the movie industry, Disneyland and the surfing beaches up to Santa Barbara,” but to distance concerns that seem to address only part of the state from anyone living elsewhere by selective severing of what seem purely regional problems.

While Draper’s own “Silicon Valley” has to an extent become its own its own region since the late 1980s, assuming its own place in the mental imaginary of the country and growing to an economy of national proportions, the independence of a region within California is more akin to rural Siskiyou County’s autonomous decision to declare its secession from the state in 2013, fed up with state regulations and a desire to protect their water rights, and to join other counties in Northern California and Oregon as “our own state,” with Humboldt County and Union District, fed up with the authority of southern California in the redistribution of water and taxes.  The notion of declaring secession as a fifty-first state to preserve one’s “way of life,” as the State of Jefferson movement, meant to evoke the spirit of the founding father, went far beyond proposals for independence in Riverside County, as declaring autonomy from the state was not only a rebellion against taxation and poor fire policies, but on securing their own water rights.  The resolutions didn’t describe a  political process, but capture a sense of the separate interests of the region from the state, which spread in largely rural regions to file “petitions of independence” to the legislatures of twenty-one counties, having fashioned its own flag and seal, placing a double cross against the field of a gold mining pan to symbolize feelings of abandonment of regions in California and Oregon alike to stake their claims for sovereign independence.  


Jefferson 51st state?.jpgCalaveras County, CA (2013)


There isn’t much of actual legal basis for one-sided assertion of secession by counties, despite some historical precedent from the mid-twentieth century–but professing a libertarian ethos of not being served by the state legislature was symbolically powerful froom 2014 to 2015, and “the51s” spread like wildfire to Yuba County, Glenn County, Calaveras County, Tehama County, Sutter County, Modoc County, Lake County, and Lassen County, as signs sowed seeds for separate sovereignty as a campaign for personal freedom, in ways that were often implicitly closely tied to the retention of local water rights.

Yet even those who champion local community should be taken aback by the apparent popularity of the proposal to subdivide California as a state.  Despite continued questions as to the proposition’s legality, debate about the benefit of dividing the state–and about doing so by putting the issue up to voters to decide by California’s somewhat awfully anti-democratic proposals–has provoked a small storm in an era of widespread drought.  Despite Draper argument that his success of forecasting is revealed by his skillful investments in Tesla, Intel, LinkedIn, and more, his discernment of the “different issues important to different people in California” might overstate the divides into which he proposes to break the state to help its future growth.  The debate is framed by proponents of the cause on their website, where Draper’s initiative, energy and funds, have animated catchy graphics that animate a cartographical fantasy.




1.  Revising borderlines is certainly a great way to create distance in the name of promoting greater transparency that the initiative promotes.  The declarative finality of the map seems a great way to close debate, rather than advance it, by revealing and promoting fault-lines of which Californians weren’t even aware.  The  finality of the map that is the logo of the proposal that Draper hopes to put before voters in 2016 is, tellingly, both bleached of toponymy and of local knowledge of the regions that it separates by whitespace borders.  In indicating six districts or proto-states in which he imagined the monolith “California” might be good to divide and cantonize, the image is conveniently oblivious of what the “new borders,” for all their alleged objectivity, might in practice mean–assimilating hinterlands to major cities would surely diminish consensus and accentuate new divides; but he argues the divisions reflect the “very different personalities” and economic and political priorities of the residents of each of these regions.  Indeed, the habitual carving of countries by data visualizations lends increased credibility to new parsing of provocative lines of political divisions that effectively work disrupt their symbolic unity, presenting an argument that the size of these six state offer a template to restore the good days of local government, as if that would somehow leave California both more responsive and responsible to state-wide problems.

The proposal seeks to redress the distance at which each region’s interests have come to lie from Sacramento.  For Draper’s movement, the division would respond to the balancing of the different interests of each region, although only those of Silicon Valley seem defined:   Draper has discussed, for example, how a “large group in Sacramento” grew so “very isolated” from the “very different personalities” of each region to find it impossible to prioritize such concerns as Silicon Valley’s prioritizing H-1B_visas, or Southern Californians’ concern with immigration, as if their distance in Sacramento exacerbated the problem of “trying to balance the interests of people all up and down this coast” more than partisan gridlock.  The image of the coast indeed seems central to the canonization his group advocates:  five coastal regions seem the template for the division of the state; names of most coastal regions include “California” as if to remind residents that they only seek to preserve the best interests of the state:  “North California,” “Central California,” and “West California,” remind residents they have the state’s best interest at stake, notwithstanding the peripheral “Jefferson” and the massive new regional”Silicon Valley,” which is expanded to include choice properties around San Francisco, as if spatially linked by the web of private commute buses not only to the Bay Area but also much further north to Mendocino.  (Perhaps this is one of the true agendas of the movement for Six Californias:  not to break up California into regions like “South California” and “Jefferson,” but to make “California” a setting in which Silicon Valley, the place where Draper lives and works, can expand to attain the sort of place on the map that it deserves.)


New Map of California


The proposal to partition the Golden Sate echoes past proposals of splitting off, hiving, or partitioning of many of the lower forty eight.  Andrew Shears of Mansfield University has taken the time to collate and synthesize many of these movements in a stunning exercise of an “alternate history”of what might have been, using a list of U.S. State Partition Proposals, that multiplies the familiar fifty states in the union to a whopping 124 proposed states–with a disclaimer about advocating such multiple proposals.


United States that Could Have Been


The similarities between the “Draperized” map of California and collapsed movements of secession that Shears mapped in the state are curious. They probably partly reflect the massive settlement of the California coast and its concentration of capital–the proposal carves “Silicon Valley” out of California’s coastline and adds both West California and North California to it.  Unlike previous calls for downsizing California that predate the announced secession of “Jefferson” in 1941, before the entry of the US into World War II, the argument is to create more responsible government, rather than that distinguishing the region of “Coastal California” would allow an ample conservative voice for denizens of the interior of the state.  The map that demonstrated the splitting of the state has, moreover, itself become a sort of rallying cry:  rather than a grass-roots phenomenon of secession from below, the disbanding of California creates a collage of cantons in which all residents will better recognize themselves.

The divisions mapped above are meant to promise “more direct contact” of the citizens with a government “now ruled by detached and isolated politicians in Sacrament,” which Draper and friends suggest splitting to six legislatures (five more), electing five more governors, and passing six separate budgets, all out of the belief that small, rather than big, is beautiful, and that local problems will be more easily resolved locally, rather than gridlock.  Of course, the habitual carving of countries by data visualizations lends increased credibility to how redrawing six states would provide a better reflection of its political divisions, as if intentionally confusing such electoral divides with the state’s actual topographic landscape. For the notion of divvying up states into red and blue does create a difficulty for California, if one’s been trying to parse the ostensible national divide in the electorate that we’ve seen on news screens from at least 2000, and that now substitute for political debate–in order to create a set of state-like sectors that would reflect voter preferences that would vote reliable, we could benefit from Draper & Co.’s design, which would individuate some new “red states” in California in the electoral mosaic.




But the initiative is not only seeking to parse blue from red.


2.  While data visualizations are great for challenging disrupting inherited symbolic forms too often burned onto the back of our retinas, does Draper’s six-color proposal really open new space for debate?  While abandoning a five-color scheme to display data, the odd choices of hues used in the “Six Californias” logo makes one wonder what is trying to be conveyed–aside from the heat of the Sierras and sandiness of the desert–save the fundamental fact that these districts should be disjoined.  Sick of charges of gerrymandering, the notion is perhaps to take both the revenues produced by Silicon Valley for its local education budget and SoCal tax franchise and keep it for oneself, and leave the Central Valley a distant poor cousin where per capita income would fall below that of the state of Mississippi; now that the reduction of property taxes have dispensed with one of the best ways of reallocating capital in California, just let the tax franchise be divided to create a spectacularly wealthy shore and poorer satellite states with minimal populations, and really big water problems, posed only to accelerate with the growing drought.

What goes on with the aqueducts, rivers, canals and reservoirs is a crucially omitted point to which the end of this post will return.  Putting aside  problems posed for the University of California system, jewel institution of the states not to mention the wide network of community colleges, the budgeting for a far-flung elementary public school system would be immense–if the Regents would have to reconsider the whole question of in-state tuition, as well as the viability of the system.  (Forget about questions of what in-state tuition would mean; would we have not only ten new senators, but six Regents?)  As one who made much money on LinkedIn, does Draper envisage online education replacing the state universities?  Although Draper has insisted that the division of the state into a region with twelve senators and six governors would cut a bloated bureaucracy, what, one might ask, about the work of the California Coastal Commission at a time of increased concern with rising ocean-levels and tsunami?

Or does the imagined legal elevation of the region of Silicon Valley to statehood–the apparent essence of Draper’s imaginary future division of the map, only seek to remove Sacramento’s oversight of its economy?  Since the basic motive behind the division seems to be to allow the newly forged state “Silicon Valley” to hire cheaper labor from Asia without restriction, it’s probable that he wouldn’t be so interested in cultivating in-state employees, anyways.  The new entity of “South California” (the amalgamated Orange and San Diego Counties, but leaving out most of Los Angeles to create a more homologous demographic) might even work to tip the balance of political representation in the US Senate, with “Central California” (the San Joaquin Valley)–assuming each of these regions would, by constitutional amendment, have two senators.  The ‘proposal’ exemplifies a pretty perverse cartographical wish-fulfillment that seems more distant from reality the more closely it’s considered, or the more closely one consideres the ways that California works.  Although the website addresses issues such as pension-retention and the future of in-state tuition, it barely conceals its deep self-interest and suggesting few questions of collective resolution–and little (if any) sense of awareness of the state’s geographic location or the increasing precariousness of its environment.  Is proponents seem to distill all problems of governance to questions of geographic proximity, and prefer to see all resolutions as springing from the fragmenting of the state’s map into six separate sectors.

To be sure, the above parsing of the state reflects the rhetorical reconstruction of the nation into mega-regions or sub-divisions that have become increasingly popular, and play out a deep anxiety that the map has changed in ways that representational government no longer reflects, or no longer does well.  Our political map needs to be redrawn, the argument goes, to better account for how the ground has changed beneath our feet.  Such newly popular maps, perhaps hastened by the eye-grabbing nature of digital web-design and computer-assisted reporting, greatly profit from the ability to convert digitized cartography into a compelling meme, take their spin and part their power from the recent division of the country’s political preferences into “red” and “blue” states in news media–no matter how mutable such divisions might be, and how the division of California into two settled poles might provide a balance–as much as an argument for separatism per se.  In Draper’s initiative, indeed, it has been remarkable how much the image of re-drawing the state has become the story, as if the map, rather than illustrating the situation on the ground, can become the basis for future debate and, even, the infographic the issue itself, now liberated from a purely illustrative function.  It even invites the question if whether the sorts of divisions that infographics have accustomed us to see reveal actual obstacles to civic consensus or debate.

Indeed, the recent re-divisions of our chorographical maps into sharply distinguished choropleths that better distinguish divides in the nation and explicate the imagined oppositions between who’s red and who’s blue in the national news seems to have generated a range of unique solutions to better parse the nation into who watches the World Cup with attention and who doesn’t.  The map provides the basis for a more eye-grabbing news story, as well as being satisfyingly direct and bare bones–spare me the time to read the paragraphs–model to consume information.  Such divisions of the country into allegedly “more accurate” cartographical parings have come to seem omnipresent signifiers that circulate in the blogosphere, removed from a storyline or caption; in elevating “place” as an object of true meaning, these divisions of demography create ghosts in the machine of the nation:  it’s not so surprising we’ve created alternative demographic divides and performed futurologies of the fragmentation to be brought by impending demographic shifts, or past signs of inevitable unbridgeable differences across regions that have not yet been sufficiently recognized in other maps.

The idea of the initiative is to bring the map into better correspondence with reality, so that the map better reflect the lost idea of an efficient and productive state.  So why not use the five-color scheme that divides the nation to divide the nation in different ways?  Creating a new national architecture for understanding our identity is not only a form of mise-en-abyme of the current rage for dividing the nation into more sensible units than that followed by the electoral college, and projecting the new sorts of urban constellations of paved earth–and the sectors of commuting they allow–that divide the nation in ways that lead one to conclude–perhaps given the recent debacles in Presidential primaries–that the state as an enitity is a thing whose time has passed, given the regional networks by which habitation, work, and priorities might be better expressed.


Emerging Megaregions


Draper might indeed be seeking to create a similar exercise of cartographical futurology, by improbably linking San Francisco to Silicon Valley, and merging San Diego with Orange County, and then parsing the rest of the current state to most appropriately divide whatever is left over.

Some have argued that such a division already exists–and might be historically back-projected to the country’s origins, perhaps in order to rectify the errors of the founding fathers who fathomed the federation in the first place, noting that several nations in fact exist, based on the research of the reporter Colin Woodward into the eleven nations that now make up our nation:


American Nations


The currency of this notion that we’d do better to just divide the nation into regions seems particularly appealing as an exit-strategy to the toxic arguments of those who continue to advocate the confused concept of “states’ rights” to advocate NIMBY policy or to resist recommendations that society might be profitably adjusted to profit those disenfranchised.  If we partition “Greater Appalachia,” the thought might also run, we get rid of a lot of other problems to affirming the unified policies of “Yankeedom.”  (Of course, it goes unspoken that the notion that such a division of a country into mini-nations seems a way to sanction a set of “just wars” about political differences, which wouldn’t have to be “civil” but just just.)  Once drawn on a chart, and hopefully in straight or straight-ish lines, the divisions of regions seem to make sense–especially if they can all be given logos that approximate new flags or a board game.


GDP map


This is by no means the only means recently advocated or devised to divide the country.  Creative parsing of the country into regions that the demographic of Facebook users seems to map into clusters of “Friendship” might be an alternative division of constituencies, if you posit the idea that regions should possess some inherent coherence or identity, measured that they be more likely to be Facebook “friends”–as if that could create consensus, or that it takes too much time to arrive at consensus by political debate, which in themselves map interestingly onto Woodward’s creative divides.


United FB regions


The data-visualizers like might also opt to divide the regions of the US into its greatest centers of population, as in this gridded cartogram that exaggerates geomorphology as weighted to number of inhabitants, in ways that reveal the increased political problem posed by the concentration of the population outside of rural regions:  the population-weighted gridded gridded cartogram of the sort that is warped by the energetic cartographer Benjamin D. Hennig posits the question of how to best distribute the political process across the country that might merit a rethinking of the role of the electoral college, to be sure, and to the notion of “super”-senators to augment the voice of specific states.


Cartogram of US popation on grid


Let’s pause to reflect on the specific gridded distribution of population  across the state the proposal would divide to six, and ask where its major centers would be–and reflect on how the distribution of population might inspire libertarian ideas of separatism within the state:


California in Gridded Cartogram


But how to parse populations into greater divisions doesn’t seem to be the most evident answer to problems of arriving at consensus, if that notion of national uniformity is what one really wants.

ESRI opted to map the country into ‘eco-regions,’ which might, as much as anything else, prove a manner of dividing the land, if it weren’t already inhabited-and if the divisions didn’t prove so irregular.  The divisions provide no basis for a political geography.  The result would be closer to the land’s geography, than the divisions the libertarian Draper put on the table–but few at ESRI would surge that these eco-regions provide aactual or effective lines of governance or of constituted economically viable units, and nor would Jefferson have endorse the solution even when we remained an agricultural state.


esri ecoregions USA


3.  But something like this seems to be going on in Draper’s somewhat immodestly self-promoted proposal to divide California voiced as a libertarian solution to the ostensibly increasing distance of current state government in Sacramento from the people’s will.  The notion that this “aims to address a variety of issues the state faces today” begins from the not so imaginative invitation “ever really think about how big California is?” that passes as a form of cartographical reflection, asking how can only one governor even be expected to look after all of its inhabitants, and resolving problems of representing Californians by the illusory simplicity of a DIY cartographical exercise that anyone should be free to weigh in upon:  “you can create your state from the ground up . . . [and] have a say in what your state becomes.”  The graphic indeed seems to drive the argument for how “Six Californias” can bridge the divides that have grown with governments that have so receded from local issues to become “further distant” from the very folks they represents them–“six smaller states with more local and more responsive government,”as the website has it.  To shift the business plan of the government, as it were, and its “parts” are spun off to spend tax dollars more effectively and responsibly–and, despite the stacked deck of the considerably large economy in California, to compete among one another, rather than be overseen by Sacramento.

Such “draw it yourself” form of libertarian cartography is particularly deceptive as a way to resolve the state’s deep problems–and seem not only create multiple problems for the state’s existing infrastructure and educational systems with the illusion that one has done something to solve them, and argues that more problems are solved by the disaggregation of the state as a powerful means to dismantle governmental control.


New Map of California


The logic underlying the project of dividing the state seems be to allow each “region” to express its own interest in the most transparent ways.

Draper’s idea that remapping six California’s would be a basis to “recreate your state” that may be on the 2016 ballot has been fittingly lampooned by the cartoonist David Horsey of the LA Times in his own revisionary map of the possible divisions of the Golden State into proto-states with their own diffident mottoes, each no doubt phrased with a suitably separatist inflection.  Horsey played much more creatively with the proposed regions’ toponymy to point up the quite interested (and urban) perspectives that animate the venture capitalist’s dismemberment of the state–taking the “more effective” map of “Six Californias,” but renaming “Jefferson” as “Weed,” for example, and using the “iState” as a designation of Silicon Valley, whose motto might now become “I’ll Google It” while “Border” has selected the simple declarative “Send ‘Em Back!”  (The mottoes reflect something of the self-interested nature of the initiative Draper sponsored in exempting Silicon Valley from the regulations that surround work-visas, which would allow Silicon Valley industries to hire the technological whizzes that it wants to hire, without inconvenient legal obstructions.)

For Draper has proposed that a belt from Marin to Tahoe as “North California,” as if to endow it with homogeneity, and greater San Diego becomes “South California.” Horsey’s remapping of the state into regions nicely reveals just how much the continuity of such regions derives from one’s perspective.  If Draper’s promise is to put voters back in touch with their representatives and destinies, the funny map into which he wants to carve the region removes the relation of the state to its major sites of agrarian production, but also to the snow packs and aquifers that until recent memory sustained much of the state, streaming down from the Sierra,  or the quandary of whether the dismembered state would be able to better deal with issues of drought.  Hollister farmer Andy Griffin of Mariquita Farms made similar concerns, and asks the deeper question, in a his own nice gloss to the below cartoon, by asking how the planned subdivision of the state remain removed from any awareness of where we are–and muddy regional awareness of even more pressing issues such as “mass transit and traffic congestion, even rental prices and housing supply”–perhaps “all regional concerns,” but ones “that need cooperation across county and city lines.”  Doesn’t the map Draper uses serve to obscure these issues, and reduce the state to the bottom level of questions of local self-interest?




Griffin’s points are hardly demanding of cartographical demonstration, but raises questions of the lack of a tabula rasa from which the division of the state into administrative entities might begin–and the alienation of such a proposal from the lay of the land.  While it looks like it might work in Photoshop, it evokes the specter of multiple desalination plants along the coastline that would presumably provide water to “Western California” and “Northern California” if they weren’t getting such a good deal from the network of reservoirs, aqueducts, Owen River, and canals that currently service not only the economy of the Central Valley, but the large cities that have grown up along the coast, let alone the sites of water storage that keep supplies of water uniform in an increasingly dry state.  (Or the question of where the SoCal amalgam of “South California,” far better named ‘Bling’, might deposit its trash, save in Border or in the Pacific.)


water storage and distribution


Just how connected Los Angeles and San Diego are to this matrix of water-transportation from the Columbia River to the Colorado River becomes apparent if one considers the map, cleansed of toponymy, of where it is that the Southland’s supply of drinking water derives–and the extent to which the SoCal watershed derives from the expanse of the entire state, in ways that would be a potential disaster of litigation to disentangle, if not  a natural disaster in the making, once one imagines the negotiation of water across multiple pseudo-state lines.

Indeed, not only do the Sierras provide over half of the total flow into the Sacramento Delta–the lynchpin of the complex system of irrigation and aqueducts that provides water to 25 million Californians and some three million acres of actively and intensively farmed agricultural land, and create a water structure that provides clean water to the state, but the linked ecosystems of the Delta and Sierras demand an increasingly collaborative policies and oversight that the very idea of division seems particularly shortsighted and would not only blindside the state but obfuscate issues.

Let’s just look a bit closer at the situation of the linked region of the Sierra-Delta at the center of the network of water that allows inhabitants of the states to live, and drives its land-based economy:





One arrives at an even more strikingly persuasive map, no doubt, by bleaching it of local toponym and topography alike, and foregrounding the web of water transport that reaches out of a thick central vein, and reaches most of the southern state that would ostensibly, in this perverse proposal, hive off as separate units, disconnected from the prime manmade surface aquifer which, albeit artificially, carries water to their residents across the very lines that the Draper-backed proposal mandates the law artificially sever, in ways that betray limited familiarity with the state’s water supplies, let alone the changes that climate change pose for the delicate balance that has historically that formed among the state’s diverse regions:


The historically built web of water supplied down the California Aqueduct and from the watershed that leads to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to the rest of the state is artificial in nature, but a web that animates the ecosystems of the farmlands around where we live.  Indeed, the web of freshwater that we have created links the state as an organism–with some 60% coming from the Sierra.  After the break-up of the region into proto-states, perhaps we can dispense with the diversion of water to the Central California’s valley to San Diego and Orange County?  In those regions, desalination plants could crowd the coastlines, at least in the short term increasing the number of local jobs if at massive cost to those new states.




It’s a good way of forgetting the ways that we are bound to the allocation of resources, and to imagine that by going back to the drawing board with the idea that it can be a tabula rasa, we might be able to better sculpt the future out of the confused state of the present, and find clarification in letting us forget where we are by remapping out sense of the present lay of the land or our responsibility to it–rather than removing us from the land.  And of the future of the state, evident in the selection of a new topographic map, from a futurist press release dated 2072, imagining the new shoreline created due to erosion and the disintegration of the arctic ice cap, created by Burrito Justice, of the remade San Francisco archipelago:




One might as well also think of the remapping of just a detail Los Angeles bay, from a more detailed map drawn by Spatialities that considered the shifts in toponymic place-names that will occur after a rise of water elevation of 260 feet:


Los Angeles Bay


As a consideration of the fragile supply of waters, the shifting of the known shoreline throws a wrench into the forward-looking rhetoric Draper uses.

Making maps that might attend more to natural resources, and less to administrative reorganization, would be a good place to start to think about our relation to the land.  Francis Lieber was particularly concerned to develop administrative solutions that would lead to good government, reflecting his dedication to questions of political economy, and no doubt might stress administration of the land as an individual responsibility:  Nullum jus sine officio, nullum officium sine jure (“No right without its duties, no duty without its rights”).  Libertarians as Draper lose sight of this, and of what responsibilities might be lost in the proposed disaggregation of the state.


California Republic

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Filed under borderlines, California, federalism, Mapping California, remapping, Silicon Valley, Six Californias

The Infographic Pontiff?

The refreshingly broad geographic purview of Pope Francis’ Urbi et orbi Christmas benediction, delivered to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square as a greeting to the world and the city, and to all Christians in the city and throughout the world, newly displayed the spectacular breadth of Pope’s call for peace across the world in a globalized age.  As the Easter Sunday Urbi et orbi papal benediction included imprecations and injunctions for peace in the Middle East, “and particularly between Israelis and Palestinians,” hoping for Godspeed in the process of negotiations, “peace in Iraq,” and “above all for dear Syria,” Mali, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, and across the Korean peninsula, Francis’ Christmas Homily illustrated the extent Francis’ direction of his annual pastoral message beyond both sola scriptura and beyond issues of church doctrine.

The homily’s wide geographic compass–containing a level of detail so tellingly absent from the generic breadth of recent predecessors in communicating the significance world peace–suggests a far broader notion of the church than was followed by his immediate predecessors, and indeed a needed geographic specificity in the relation of the pontiff to the faithful:   before some 70,000 faithful, the pontiff resumed a similar itinerary of sites of the persistent absence of worldly peace, touching similar landmarks in a tour of global conflicts from South Sudan to Syria, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Iraq. Francis’ comprehensive roundup of global hotspots took its brief in refreshingly literal terms as addressing “omnium ecclesiorum Urbis et Orbis,” by effectively mapping commanding Hotspots of civil unrest and travail across our inhabited world, and of course hoping for future tranquility.

This indication of continued horrors we might too easily neglect is a far cry from how the global maps commissioned by Gregory XIII in the 1580s.  If the monumental cycle of maps in the Galleria delle carte geografiche expanded the image and presence of Italy in the Mediterranean, as well as its significance to the worldly church, and the above Loggia offered a canvas for tracing missionary routes to different continents, Francis’ mapping of suffering dramatically departed from the magisterial function of the church in dispensing dispensing worldly teachings, and suggests a way to broaden the vocal role of church in a globalized long considered one of the earliest globes to depict the New World in detail, if the third to survive.  T.  Perhaps this came from his appreciation of the actual difficulty of prayers for worldly peace.  Francis’ homily gave new breadth to his sense of moments “both bright and dark” in worldly politics.  Whatever the reason, breadth doubt informed the sense of peace and what peace would entail–his procession from St Peter’s basilica gave prominent position to pairs of children from Italy, the Philippines, Lebanon, his native Argentina and Congo, as if in an embodied objective correlative of worldly suffering among Christian believers, and an infographic that could be held before the eyes of the faithful, and remind us of the great stakes of any future map for worldly peace at the start of the third millennium.

As the first non-European pontiff, no doubt the former Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio was acutely conscious of his charge for ensuring global comprehensiveness within the Church, as well as of expanding the doctrinal focus of his immediate predecessors.  Francis openly joked on assuming St. Peter’s throne that his fellow cardinals of seeking a new bishop of Rome that they went “almost to the end of the world.”  And long before being anointed by Twitterfeeds with the hashtag #BestPopeEver, he suggested a broad perspective on the alleviation of and attention to worldly suffering and the active role of the church in its alleviation, a consciousness no doubt present in his adoption–the first time for a Roman pontiff–of the name of the Franciscan founder, St. Francis of Assisi.  His appreciation of thee relative nature of peace may have surely derived from his personal experience and exposure to dictatorship as a Jesuit during Argentina’s Dirty War (guerra suicamay have made many and multiple compromises to preserve peace; Bergoglio was quite familiar with Argentinian death squads, and seems to have minimized the 30,000 deaths of that place and period, in ways that  surely invested a different view of “peace” as an arduous uphill climb.  (His relative silence in a period of terror terrifyingly paralleled the minimization of violence of the dictatorship of Jorge Rafael Videla, and he has revealed something like a dedication to atonement ever since he offered Videla comfort and communion–if not his concealment of political prisoners–charges perhaps due to pragmatism in the moment, but which the pontiff has not clarified satisfactorily.)




But to forgive is Christian, and to err human, and since he worked within the Argentine political structure, Francis has attained the unique perspective to turn a significantly more tolerant eye on the Christian faithful and to devote considerably more attention to the scale of worldly suffering.

And when Francis evoked a cast of characters in need of peace and hope, from child soldiers to migrants,  and providing something like a literal tour of moments of worldly peace, his sermon had a clearly cartographical quality:  he offered a sort of virtual travel to or evocation of places of unrest that merited personal papal attention (or intervention) and indeed the spiritual attention from the world’s religious.   He took more seriously the global nature of the address that hoped for “peace in the world” from human trafficking to natural disasters in his “urbi et orbibenediction that embraced the literal scope of the sermon hoping to foster global unity and peace–even if his history of compromise and possible collusion suggest a more problematic history of personal involvement in reigns of terror.   Following the time-honored presumption of ecclesiastic universality that befits such an annual homily, Francis openly addressed once more the “ongoing conflict in Syria,” hoping that followers of all religions were working for peace there, and praying for a resolution to civil strife, hoping that the Lord would act to “foster social harmony” in Southern Sudan, as well as the Central African Republic, hoping for dialogue to grow in Nigeria and the Holy land, and that tragedies never again befall migrants as they did this year at Lampedusa, an island off the coast of northern Africa, ever again.

The breadth of his call to conscience was striking, and has been widely celebrated.  “Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance,” hoping to spare future suffering for the Syrian people, and hoping that the Prince of Peace might also help to heal the constant attacks on innocent and defenseless in Nigeria, the frequency of violence in “beloved Iraq,” so often struck by senseless violence, and that hope and consolation reach the many displaced from the Horn of Africa to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and those displaced by natural disasters in the Philippines.  In providing a personalized message of support and succor, Francis also offered something of an infographic of global Hotspots of need and humanitarian disaster far more explicitly than his predecessors would have ever articulated, focussed as they were on issues of doctrine as much as of worldly conflicts or wars.  If we don’t know what newspapers Francis reads, his words echoed the March public comments Valerie Amos who, as head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), described the many “neglected” areas she met as “In the last year alone, I visited more than 40 countries from Syria to Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Afghanistan and Myanmar, and saw and heard for myself the terrible conditions that families face and their harrowing stories–loss of loved ones and homes.”  These “neglected regions,” surrogates for the neglected, offer a new geographic language for understanding regions of humanitarian assistance and need whose rhetoric seems modeled after that of maps to show the humanitarian Hotspots that are familiar from maps of global warming, and which provide new visual models to contemplate the increasing depth of inter-relationhips within the world.




Or our own globalized sense of the multiplication of hazard Hotspots so disparate to be hard to process or even get one’s mind around–also a tragic challenge in the face of global warming.




Pope Francis seems to realize and relish the challenges both of ecclesiastic leadership and of providing comfort and consolation in an age of globalism.  In the age of elegant but impersonal infographics, the expansive geographical breadth of spiritual compassion across the world seems a response to globalization that tabulated the costs of what we too often lose from the 24-hour news cycle:  for if the pontiff’s world tour was a worthy exercise of extending a globally frayed compassion, it was also a cursory review of selective dim points of civil strife across the inhabited globe that was (as befits the medium, perhaps) short on particular details or local context, and as an impassioned address fell a bit short, as well as a depressingly long laundry list.  But that said, the infographic that Francis provided to believers was a welcome inclusion of specifics to hold before their mind, in contrast to His austere predecessors, the world-travelling ecclesiological conservative John Paul II and the even more austere Benedict XVI, for all the Enlightened pretensions that the undoubtedly intentional echo of Benedict XIV suggests.  Indeed, Francis offered a telling shift from the dominant concern of his predecessors with questions of catechism, arising from their magisterial notion of the pontiff as head of the church.

The papal Christmas benediction was a sort of infographic for a world weary of war, where He could only hope to offer succor or faith for the many victimized and displaced world-wide in hot-spots of civil unrest, an attempt at offering a sense of hope which seems so thinly stretched.  Can we process the infographic that he gives us, and use it to keep an eye on needs for worldly assistance and sympathy?


Pope Francis Christmas 2013


And the new vision he has presented in the elevation of Cardinals in the very first month of 2014 provided a refreshing image of the church whose collective memory and spiritual body has been for perhaps far too long identified with Italian bishops, and whose corpus mysticum has been difficult to separate from the Italian peninsula–or Italian cities such as Venice and Rome–even as it has gained a truly global status over the twentieth century, removed from a colonial apparatus if also redolent of colonial ties.  Pope Francis’ recent timely elevation to the cardinalate from regions in Latin America, Asia, and Africa make a case for the church’s global face–and distance the worldly body of the church from a clerical career path or ladder often moving from Venice and Turin.

Indeed, the infographic provides a compelling new vision for the body of the Church, and its ties to believers, as well as its charismatic body whose legitimacy derives from divine intervention in human history but is sustained by continued faith.  For in selecting a cardinals’ college that includes not only Managua, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Ares, but Seoul, Les Cayes in Haiti, in addition to the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and the Philippines, Francis clearly intends that the church begin to present an image of itself to its believers and to the world that is globalized, rather than rooted in one peninsula.




This is refreshing, and particularly timely–in light of the planned February 22 consistory in Rome. If we have seen narrow-minded screeds about how “the US is getting skunked” in this reconfiguration of the church’s public profile, this is also an affirmation that the mystical body of the church derives from its continued ongoing relevance to its faithful and to those in need.

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Filed under #BestPopeEver, Christmas papal homily, infographics, Pope Francis, St. Peter's Basilica, Urbi et orbi

Mapping Slavery in the United States in 1860

In debating the values of data visualization maps, I’ve gone both ways.  The value of maps as specific arguments–and tools of spatial orientation–respond to the value of the selective criteria that cartographers foreground in them, after all.  Less inventive differentiations of spatial distributions “flatten” the map’s surface, and limit their value to the map-reader.  Their arguments are not as interesting, one might say.  The early visualization of this elegant choropleth map employed data from the Census of 1860 it translated into visual form to map the density slave population across the recently seceded Southern states. Long touted as an important strategic tool, the rhetoric of an isolated mapping of the Southern states framed debates about the Civil War with greater  subtlety than current tiresome choropleth maps of “red” vs. “blue states.”  The 1861 lithograph marked the density of slave-owning in pockets by darkening sites of the greatest slave population, perhaps to mask the ownership of slaves throughout the South and point to the defenders of a slave-based economy.

1861 slave population map

If the census provided a basis for Edwin Hergesheimer and Alexander Dallas Bache to create the map, a collaborative government effort as much as an independent enterprise of the commercial engraver Henry S. Graham, the use of statistical cartography prefigured the mapping of social or political trend in the field of human geography.  While the recent German immigrant Hergesheimer created the pro-Union map from figures in the Census after his work on the US Coastal Survey, the translation of the results of the Census into visual form proceeded because the Coast Survey’s Superintendent.

Although a deeply collective project, Bache’s recent success in assembling a team to map the coastal survey gave him a new public profile, and prominence, to back the project of mapping a visual record of data assembled about slavery in Southern States.  The map tellingly reveals Hergesheimer’s deep Liberal opposition to slavery as an institution and the pro-Union belief of supervisors of the eighth national census, but its visual explanation of the origins of secession intentionally focussed attention around slavery debates.  Printed in September of 1861 after hostilities had begun, and ten states had seceded from the Union, it isolated the evil of slavery in the seceded region, and highlighted the centers of slavery’s institution even before slavery became the central issue of the war.

Hergesheimer and Bache were instrumental, too, in adopting the most current techniques of mapping to portray the differentials of slave-owning in the Confederate States just before the South’s Secession.  The half-tone engraving he designed to show Slave-Holding States in the Southern States of the United States in 1860 foregrounds discontinuities in the national territory by using figures he derived from that year’s national census.  Known as a “Slave Density Map,” the lithograph exemplifies cutting edge statistical mapping and an artistic use of half-tones to depict the seats of the evils of slavery in seceded regions of the United States in a piece of pro-Union propaganda:  slavery existed throughout the Southern states, but was concentrated “down river” in Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas.  The lithograph provided something of a moral map of the region beyond which Lincoln sought to forbid the expansion of the slave-economy. Printed and sold by the government in wartime ostensibly for the benefit of Union Soldiers, the single-sheet map used half-tones to differentiate relative variations each county’s relative density of slave-holding across the Southern states.   But although the map presents itself as an appeal for wounded veterans of a war in which soldiers were so dramatically injured, it’s mapmaker aimed not only to raise funds through direct sales but broadly encourage the war effort by illustrating slavery as literally darkening the nation.

With considerable cartographical sophistication in charting variable densities of slave-ownership, the map illustrated striking discontinuities in the nation and  even suggested divisions in the Confederacy at the outset of the war:

Slavery Map 1860

Bache was a deeply moralistic man, as well as a former Lieutenant in the Army who, after graduating from West Point until 1829 designed coastal fortifications  before he rose to head the Smithsonian.  Bache had won national eminence as the head of the United States Coastal Survey, using a team of trained surveyors, several university observatories, and many field assistants to triangulate the coastlines from a base-line near Annapolis.  Based on readings from numerous sighting stations, the map extended west to California and endured through the twentieth century.  After mapping the shorelines of the United States, Bache devoted himself to mapping its islands of slavery.

Most maps made in wartime are valuable strategic tools to orient troops, as much as map vulnerabilities.  But this map was not made for a lack of cartographical records.  (It did not meet a desire for cartographical knowledge, for example, as the many paper maps shipped to Kuwait during the 1990 Gulf War–often incorrectly considered the first war fought by GPS–as 67 highly detailed topographic line maps of the region, some bathymetric, at the incredible scale of 1:50,000.   Incredibly, the Army lacked  accurate maps of Kuwait, and these were quickly prepared during the war based on remotely sensed satellite images.)  Bache’s map had far less apparent strategic use, identifying pockets where a slave-based economy was particularly dense, and all but ignoring physical topography or population centers.  But the map was compelling as an image of the divided nation.  Bache and Hergesheimer designed the map for a civilian populace, using the 1860 census to create a visually compelling distribution that revealed regional disparities in “slave-ownership” and the population identified as slaves to reduce the scope of the confederate secession.

The map provides an image of the nation taking stock of itself, or learning to look at its divisions–a rare thing.  Bache and Hergeshemier’s map of this nexus of the Southern economy was ostensibly sold to raise funds for “Sick and Wounded Soldiers of the US Army,” or veterans, as gothic script in scrollwork crisply notes.  It’s been argued that the map identified possible pockets of resistance, or possible seats of opposition to Union forces.  Lincoln consulted the map after the war, to consider ways to encourage the Southern economy.  But the elegant map roots the struggle of the Civil War in disparities of slave-ownership in the South, to question the fierceness of opposition to the Union, or to show the enemy and stakes in the war.  By starkly differentiating each county’s degree of reliance on slavery by shades of grey, it offered viewers a stark map of racism in parts of the region–if it also perhaps perpetuated racism  unwittingly in directing attention to the suffering of soldiers who could benefit from its sale and not sufferings inflicted by the economic institution of slavery.


But the map also made its point of isolating slave-ownership in select regions of the Southern states, in ways that masked the continuity of slavery across the region.  The remove of the Southern states from the North, and isolation of precise regions where the practice of slavery was most extreme, echoed Bache’s belief in the political uses of science by applied cartography to national needs and for the public good.

It is interesting that Hergesheimer’s design for the map followed Bache’s success in precisely mapping the nation’s shorelines as Superintendent of the Coastal Survey.  The project established Bache’s credibility in large-scale surveying.  The new survey not only used the survey of coastal lines to map the interior, but may have provided Hergesheimer and Bache to turn attention to the occupants of the land as the US Government desired at that point.  The actual survey of coastal lines offered a sort of template to construct the map of slave-holding populations by using nine shades of half-tones to darken regions in differing degrees that created a compelling image of the fractured nation, and minimized the widespread nature of the social acceptance of slavery in seceding states.  The detail of the shore and coastal islands throughout suggests that the US provided not only contour lines for the map, but a template for national coherence–the unstated if implicit subject of the Slave-Holding map, and a central preoccupation of the wartime government.

The map of slave-holders adapted census information to the basic contours of states to map aggregate variations of slave-owning in states.  Although the map is given the strategic value of predicting resistance to the Union troops, it was probably most valuable for its inspirational or hortatory appeal as much as its accuracy.  Bache tried to expand the public functions of cartography in the map by adapting recent statistical methods to compellingly map two different worlds within the same nation.  A career military man and scientist, Bache was a public servant committed to the public utility and good of surveying and meteorology–a counter-part to Matthew Fontaine Maury, the polymath oceanographer and cartographer who served in the Confederate Navy 1861-5 and was Bache’s long-time nemesis:  Maury, whose cartographical interests I discussed in an earlier post, and who had himself hatched the ill-fated scheme for slave-owners to resettle from southern states to Brazil’s Amazon Valley in the early 1850s.  Bache’s map is both a detailed picture of social divisions and an image of a divided nation.  If this unlikely project was impractical, Bache’s map focussed on the seats of the slave-economy in seceding Southern states.

Susan Schulten noted in 2010, in a blog post to which I’m indebted, that Bache’s map shows a striking concentration ownership of slaves on the shores of the Mississippi, where cotton crops dominated, Alabama and the low-lands near South Carolina (which enslaved the majority of its population) and eastern Virginia; she suggested that this snapshot of slave-holding had strategic value to determine sources of greatest resistance in the Confederacy as well as for Lincoln to consider future economic development of the South.  The map must have constituted something like a “news map” for readers eager to understand the actual numbers of slave-owners in the deeper south, and the relative degree to which slave-owning had continued to endure in the Republic.  Parts of the broadsheet provided a strikingly compelling illustration of the locations of slave-ownership and an economy of slavery where Cotton was still King, as much as the Southern states as a whole:


Slavery was widespread in both Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah:

Savannah and South Carolina

And, similarly, a pointed reliance on slavery around the area of Galveston, Texas:

But there are multiple ways to read the project for designing the map.  The image of slave-holding lands provided a victory map for the Union soldiers, who sold it to raise money for their fellow-veterans who remained sick or injured, as if to stake the agenda for a need of remapping the nation, echoing a Jeffersonian idea of the use of surveying as a foundation for democracy.  It was the map by which Lincoln used to follow Union troops as they liberated slave populations, or understand the seats of rebellion, but had huge power in graphically stigmatizing Southern states.  It was also an idealistic statement of the goal of ending slavery in the war effort.

This striking legend that explained the iconography of the map’s nine variations in shading, placing the greatest “free blacks” in large towns:

Legend in Slavery Map

The innovative exercise in terrestrial cartography was also the last attempt to quantify slave-holding in the nineteenth-century, although it integrated public records that were later widely accessible.

It was, sadly, also the final time the Federal Government revisited the topography of slave-holding with similar precision. The failure to remap the same distribution seems one of the more stunning  cartographical silences of the twentieth century.  Bache’s impetus to draft the map might be informed by his long involvement in public education and belief in the public utility of the sciences; he effectively lent  a polemic character to conventions of statistical mapping by exploiting the different gradations of shading available to the engraver to craft a useful piece of early printed cartographical propaganda.

Indeed, its use as a piece of propaganda in wartime may have outstripped its potential as  guide to military strategy.  Lincoln regularly studied the map, according to his portraitist Francis Bicknell Carpenter, who found the president studying the map with considerable intensity in 1864, during the six months when he lived in the White House to paint the portrait “President Lincoln Reading the Emancipation Proclamation to His Cabinet.”  But his inclusion in the image of the choropleth map that accentuated national divisions reflected his interest in illustrating Lincoln’s “statesmanship” and “solid integrity” in bridging the nation.  By his own account, Lincoln had taken great pains to explain to Carpenter both the origins of “his adoption of the Emancipation policy” and his decision to draft the Proclamation from late July 1862, before he put it aside until being sure of military victory.  “I resolved,” Carpenter wrote in his memoirs, “to represent the scene [of Lincoln reading the Proclamation to his Cabinet] without the appliances and tricks of picture-making, and endeavor, as faithfully as possible, to represent the scene exactly as it transpired; room, furniture, and accessories all were to be painted from the actualities.”  Did the room actually include the map of slaves still ‘owned’ in the South?


Carpenter’s state portrait depicting Lincoln reading the Proclamation to his Cabinet placed the lithograph in a small but a prominent role that most observers would not fail to notice.   As if to illustrate the subject of the recently issued Proclamation, if not the thoughts that weighed on the conscience of the President, the map emerged from behind a chair at the painting’s base.  Lincoln loved the portrait.  The map is the essential subject of his discourse; Carpenter made good use of it to capture the stakes of the Proclamation.  The nine bars of graduated shading in the map stand out among printed books in the group portrait, reminding viewers, both recording a moment of triumphalism and presidential dignity, and suggesting the uphill battle for implementing the Proclamation in the deepest South.  The map speaks volumes:

Visualizing Slavery-Carpenter

It reminds us not only of Lincoln’s hope to transcend social divisions.  Before Carpenter included it to illustrate the grand subject of Lincoln’s address–and Steven Spielberg also used the map in “Lincoln,” behind Daniel Day Lewis’ shoulder–the 1861 lithograph provided a tool to imagine political coherence in a more perfect union, urging men to enlist and others to get behind the war.

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Filed under "Lincoln", Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Dallas Bache, choropleth maps, Edwin Hergesheimer, Matthew Fontaine Maury, US Coastal Survey, West Point