Weed Maps?

While the criminalization of marijuana over the past decades strove to push the stuff literally off the national map, the rethinking of the efficacy of a “war on drugs” has created a new mapping of the legalization of cannabis as a legitimate pursuit.  The rise of legal marijuana dispensaries in many states of the nation have created yet a new manner of mapping our national divides–itself a favorite national past-time.  From the illustration of which states have enacted laws of marijuana legalization–

Marijuana Legalization map

 

–or, to offer a more updated account of “decriminalization” as well as “legalization”:

 

Map-of-US-state-cannabis-laws.svg   Legend MariJ Map clean

 

These broad brush-strokes of cartography demand a finer grain.  And a finer grain has arrived, so to speak, with the entrepreneurial folks at weed maps who have collated local dispensaries at a range of scale to which one can zoom to reveal a geography of availability and even openly ranked dispensaries that are the closest we have to sanctioned standards, differentiating “laboratory tested” from, presumably, riskier, and delivery services from in-store only. Google Maps has allowed us to develop a new iconography of pot, particularly useful when one is addressing customers and taking laws for medical cannabis at their word.  Issues of legibility and economy in a map lies always at the crux of cartographical invention, and we might look at these early models of mapping as a sort of prototype that has sprung up on a website that includes such euphoric messages of encouragement of abundant capitalization as “Congratulations Washington!  Legal Weed Has Arrived!” and ponders “What a long, strange road to legalization it’s been in the Evergreen State.” Consider the local density of outlets in the Bay Area, in a map offering a busily synoptic overview of the rich efflorescence of the weed economy, as a promising point of departure:

 

Bay Area Weed Map

Hard to read, you may say, and too crowded and complex in its iconography, not to mention for readers with occasionally addled brains?  The interactive map produces its best results by hovering over specific sites, but in the large-scale version just gives an idea of the abundant range of buying options available. But let’s just focus on buying clubs around the East Bay:

 

East Bay Dispensaries

and take advantage of the range of ratings and select reviews:

Rating and Reviews

This could be of use for the traveller–not many legal dispensaries in Fresno or Reno–or for whittling one’s abundant range of options down to the lab-tested,

Lab Tested

Or, to restrict oneself to both recreational AND lab-tested,

Bay Area Recreational, Lab-Tested

Or explore the rankings of regions closer to the Sacramento foothills:

 

Sacramento Foothills--review and rank

And you might do a double-take at finding out how quickly demand has driven the rapid growth of dispensaries that have sprouted up around greater Seattle:

Dispensaries in Washington

For this inventive appropriation of the Google Maps API and the ranked range of selectivity that might best suit the searcher of legalized cannabis, we have to thank the folks at “weed maps” for the mash-up, even if one wished they used an OSM base map, whose “open access” options might allow easy mapping of the proliferation of future sights of sale. Often, for example, despite the inventive and unconsciously playful iconography, one gets some nice visuals, but most maps are often all too crowded–as one can already see in those of the Bay Area, with information and odd juxtapositions, as in the proverbial New Jersey delivery truck seeming poised to carry cannabis to Manhattan through the Holland Tunnel–

 

Some of the Iconography is Cool

The API reveals some nice “weed islands” that will be useful to note, even in states where legalization is the norm, as Rhode Island.

 

Weed Islands?

While quite rudimentary in design, the proliferation of push-pins pointing to places to purchase pot posit a pivot in themselves in the changing topography of cannabis in the new millennium.  More than anything, it just shows the relative rapidity with which marijuana is openly on the map. So, go forth and map?  It’s a lot easier to negotiate the topography.

Leave a comment

Filed under Google Maps, Google Maps API, mapping cannabis, mapping marijuana legalization, weedmaps

Mapping the Wobbliness of the Polar Vortex

Since we use the conventions of map making to endow solidity, or reify, even the most abstract ideas, it is interesting to examine how the ‘Polar Vortex’ has spread across the mass media as both a meme and icon of the current weather patterns of the new millennium.  Rather than map place by a matrix of fixed locations alone, maps of the Vortex offer a visualization of temperature variants that reveal an anomalous weather conditions that track the Vortex as it moves, intersecting with place, across the stratosphere into our own latitudes, tracking not only a “cold front” but, globally, the disruption of the path of the circumpolar winds, or splitting of the vortex from the north pole.  We are most likely to “see” the Vortex as an incursion into our own map, effectively dividing the country (yet again?) this summer into regions of cold and heat.  The currency of visualizations of the Vortex reveals not only a meme, but a model for encoding multi-causational weather maps.  Indeed, the mapping of the divergence from usual temperature range reveals the anomaly of a north-south weather front with the solidity of a national divide, raising deep questions of its forecast of extreme weather throughout the year more than offering a “poor man’s vortex.”

 

PolarVortex2

As the term has gained wide currency as a challenge within data visualization world for throwing weather systems into legible relief, it set a new bar for producing visualizations that are challenging to fully comprehend.  The Polar Vortex is mapped as it moves, as if on its own, across the stratosphere into our own latitudes, condensed in a range of data visualizations of stratospheric or tropospheric low-pressure fronts, in ways that map onto current quandaries of atmospheric and climactic imbalance.   The animated superimposition of weather patterns condensed in a range of data visualizations of stratospheric or tropospheric low-pressure fronts themselves map onto concerns about climate change, and conjure narratives of global atmospheric change and climactic imbalance:  the disruption of the usual harmony of the polar jet stream perhaps maps onto both notable rises in polar temperatures or torrential rains off the coast of Japan, but whether due to a spike in northern pacific offshore typhoons or openings in polar ice cover, the markedly increasing waviness of the vortex has allowed increased amounts of cooler air seep south once again, in an eery echo of last January’s mid-winter chill, that has lead weatherpersons to scramble for clarifying narratives about the return of that green blob.  (To be sure, back in January, the naysayers of climate change parsed weather maps as counter-evidence to global warming, allowing them to indulge in alternate meteorological realities, before they were batted down in two minutes by the President’s Science and Technology Advisor, Dr. John Holdren.)

 

Weatherman scrambling to gloss

 

 

twins-gfs

Offering a marvelous array of vowels and pattern of assonance, with a name befitting a Marvel comics super-hero as much as a weather pattern, the Vortex is a touchstone of climate change and a great case of how we have yet to ken the global as intersecting with the local.   But we have unfortunately trended to oscillate, as it were, in our maps between national weather maps, where the Vortex made such a splash as a newsworthy low-pressure pattern, to maps of patterns in global environmental change, that might better direct attention to changing meteorological realities.

Part of the problem is adopting a point of view on the weather that we are tracking–or of viewing the Vortex as a stratospheric phenomenon around the polar regions, or charting a weather pattern forecast as occurring within our nation’s bounds.  The reprise of the spill of northern air into the upper United States returned the Vortex into national news this July has provided a basis of the latter, to judge by this new visualization that projects the cooling temperatures in the northern United States, as a deep wave in the Jet Stream brought colder air to the Northeast.  Even if the cooling air that arrived was not arctic, the pattern of its arrival to the continental US this summer has prompted some significant debate among meteorologists who have glossed the map in alternate ways, almost entirely still focussing, oddly enough, in a reprise of the mid-January news blip on the Vortex, on the unit of weather in the United States in isolation from a global context.  The anomaly of the “Vortex” has become something of shorthand for a southern swing of cold air from north of the Great Lakes, produced by a decreased disparity between polar and sub-polar continental temperatures that lower the latitude of the jet stream, according to some research that has been endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences, and increased its waviness as the Arctic warms.  The maps serve to embody the increasingly newsworthy weather in the Northeast, reaching down to the southern states as if an invading cold front, placing the anomaly of the displacement of cold air against the screen of an iconic national map on which it has been superimposed.

 

polarvortex-321x214AccuWeather

 

The map recalls a similar dispersion of circumpolar winds from the arctic into the lower forty-eight already called the “most upsetting” data visualization of the winter of 2014.  The drift of circumpolar winds at stratospheric levels offers a compelling means to understand the arrival into the Midwestern states of cold air once more from the north during the mid-summer of 2014.  Rather than only being a meme of the media, or being coined as a manifesto a group of avant-garde modernist meteorologists who found energy in the abstraction of weather forms, the term tracks the dispersion of the circumpolar whirl usually uniformly swirling about the pole offer both a rogue arrival into our national climate and a sort of emblem of an imbalance of circumpolar stratospheric harmony.

The benefits of shifting iconography to the global are immediately apparent if only because they reveal the divergence of the weather system from a meteorological status quo.  The cycle of wind, usually located in the mid- to upper troposphere, has apparently begun to split or splinter from it usual centers above Baffin Island and Siberia as its air warms, and moves below the arctic regions.  The displaced vortex, which migrates below the arctic circle in the stratosphere, reflects the warming of temperatures at the poles, creating currents able to funnel the figurative migration of arctic air currents to sub-arctic latitudes, even if the air in question this July might more likely be northeast Pacific more than arctic in its provenance.

 

Displaced Vortex-full color windsEarth.com

The local is, however, far more easily digestible for viewers of The Weather Channel, and the Vortex is shown as an intersection of the global with the regional weather map.  Collating data from divergences or temperature anomalies from a database covering local temperatures in 1981-2010, the spectrum of a “heat map” tracks currents of cold across the backdrop of the lower forty-eight in an easily digestible manner that packed so big a punch for folks trying to puzzle over the freezing over of roads, local lakes, or back yards:

 

Vortex in States

 

Once more thrown off-balance, it sends cooler air below the lower forty eight and forty-ninth parallel, making it national news as a dramatic aberration that marked the entry of intense cold.  Data visualizations provide new tools of making the meteorological concept legible in ways that gain sudden particular relevance for audiences familiar with weather maps, for whom immediately powerful associations of shifts in the measurements of regional temperatures will pop out at viewers of a forecast or weather map, forcing them to pay attention to the meteorological imbalances they portend.

 

400x266_01221625_weekendcold

 

Recent global maps of the Polar Vortex offer more than an icon of the transcendence of territorial boundary lines systems, by processing and portraying the Vortex as an expansion and  breaking off of cold air outside the restraints of an arctic air system.

 

November2013_polar_vortex_geopotentialheight_mean_Large

 

The dramatic splitting of the arctic jet, due to atmospheric pressure anomalies, was mapped by NOAA in this data visualization of July 2014, of a splintering of the vortex, in apparent response to the warming of our poles, hastened by the diminishing snowfall and ice-cover that create new chilly islands or microclimates on the ends of a warming pole we often seen as lying so far away:

 

July Polar Vortex 2014

 

The disruption that results brings the displacement of arctic winds that most often sit anchored around the polar region.  A “weak” polar vortex, interacting with arctic ice-cover decline and reduced snow cover, was some time go modeled as resulting in a meandering arctic jet stream and occasional detachment of a polar weather systems and consequent decline or weakening of pressure gradients of the vortex, and consequent reconfiguration of the arctic jet stream:

 

N_Jetstream_Rossby_Waves_N

 

Has something like this occurred?  The dynamic visualization of weather maps in five colors and striking contour lines provide clear tools to visualize its speed and energy, in ways that might even have helped resurrect a term that had languished in meteorological lexicons from at least 1853, when the “continued circular gale” was described as flying “more rapidly and more obliquely . . . carried upward to the regions of the atmosphere above,” as lying in the ambitions of a “great Air Map” but based on the recent 1851 NOAA mapping of “great undulatory beds of the oceans . . . for all practical purposes of navigation.”

 

great polar vortex

 

But now we have a recognizable image that can be tracked over a recognizable terrestrial map that concretizes the Vortex in ways that its winds can be understood as extending over a region of truly global expanse.

Tracked in terms of actual temperature anomalies, in the winter of 2014, when newscasters and NOAA (the same agency) mapped the migration of cold air southwards of the pole into our frontiers, far outside the usual path of the jet stream, in a disturbance of the weather systems worthy of national news last January, in a data visualization which tracked a green (or purple) blob whose forced migration of frigid air from the polar regions that disrupted weather patterns with national consequence as it migrated out of Canadian airspace.

 

500_mb_Mon_night Vortex in States

 

In the dramatically eye-catching graphics of television’s mass-media, as the bulge of purple and magenta of detached low-pressure systems migrate south, crossing the very same borders to which we are increasingly sensitized in our national news media, albeit at tropospheric altitudes no fence or border guards could ever patrol.  Indeed, the map suddenly suggests the increasing vulnerability of our delicate weather systems, echoed by the language with which “EXTREME COLD” loops southward across our northern border:

 

650x366_01161627_hd31-1 650x366_01161752_hd30-2AccuWeather

 

The apparent incursion of its jet stream into the bounds of our national airspace, as in this image of cold air migrating across the northern border, results in the proliferation of metaphors all too often violent in tone:  Climate Central may have only adopted the robust rhetoric of sportscasters when it described high pressure systems in quite athletic terms that “block the eastward progression of weather systems, like an offensive lineman protecting the quarterback from the other team,” allowing the air that circulates around the arctic to start “spreading tentacles of cold southward into Europe, Asia, and North America.”  Less dynamically interpreted and understood once cast in global terms, rising temperatures at the poles–the very sites where, we should note, global warming is occurring at a rate twice the global average–displaces the previously concentrated flow of a jet stream of cold air from its arctic abode.

Of course, few seem ready to tie this to the diminishing ice-cover of the north pole, which still seem a leap too far to be made logically. Oddly, the meteorological mechanics of the expanding split-off of polar winds is modeled as an incursion of weather patterns echo the metaphorics of a military situation map by tracing borders, a hold-over of national weather organizations like the NOAA:  the global image of wind velocities around the pole, depicted below, is oddly absent from what is actually a global phenomenon.

 

polar-wind-displaced-vortex-2-1-14Earth

But we are all too used to interpret and read weather maps with both a sense of voyeurism for our friends and relatives, but from a subjective lens.Despite the adoption of globalized images from our friends at National Geographic, who used Mass FX Media’s animation to visualize circumpolar air flows, and despite the continued live monitoring of wind-flows at “Earth,” the isolation of the nation in the maws of the vortex is so readily discussed as the “most upsetting map of the winter,” as if the migration of the pool of arctic air into the northern United States were best understood as a disturbance of national temperatures.

The similar narrative about the Vortex in national forecasts stands in contrast to the maps of rising temperatures, but create a visual modeling of a meteorological distribution that almost resembles an invasion.  Even though the distribution and speed of the Vortex in summer is usually slow, the polar air however seems to be arriving from across the border with unstoppable velocity, the below global visualization, also based on a similar distribution of deviations from average temperatures craft a similarly compelling large-scale weather pattern–albeit one occurring some 3,000 feet above the earth’s surface–in which, rather than reveal a lack of equilibrium, arctic air dips south across the forty-ninth parallel and past the Mason-Dixon line, confirming its occurrence as a shift of national consequence.

 

19g70jjap4syugif

 

Because the “most upsetting map of the winter” tracks the pooling of arctic air into the northern United States created a disturbance of national temperatures into the Eastern United States and much of the central region of the country.

Wasn’t it once more reassuring to understand the polar regions, its topography unknown, as somehow removed from the atmospheric currents than being mapped around the world?

 

UNEXPLORED POLAR BLUE

 

The wonderfully protean animated map of disequilibria in the harmony of stratospheric currents of cold polar air within the jet stream opens breaches across national boundaries, albeit at considerable elevation, and also offers a way of tugging at one atmospheric phenomenon to unpack a web of inter-related phenomena.  Unlike maps of habitation or land-surface, the map traces a low-pressure system at high altitudes far above the settled or occupied land, but intersecting with it in ways that conjure a failed ability to contain colder air over the polar regions.  (Taking the iconography of weather maps as transparent, the blogosphere has suggested the adoption of charges of circumpolar intoxication.)

The distribution of stratospheric air whose flow is charted in global map as an irregular anomaly of temperatures’ spread, is perhaps most concretely rendered by the iced-over bodies of water it left in our own upper latitudes.  The striking freezing over of the Great Lakes, covering some 88% of the lakes’ surface area by mid-February, a greater proportion of seasonal ice-cover than ever registered, and surpassing the 82% record of 1996, according to Caitlin Kennedy of NOAA, which render the striking concentration of ice in frozen lakes a concrete map of the local effects of truly polar weather.

 

GreatLakesIce_610-1

The material manifestation of the cold on the surfaces of those five lakes–all frozen solid, to appearances, save Lake Ontario, seem as concrete a result of the consequences of climactic change one might have in a chart, by placing the ice-covered lakes in a local landscape.

What seemed the displacement of the frigid polar air to the Great Lakes became something like a confusion of the local and the global in the news media that was played out in weather maps.  Of course, the meteorological mapping of this winter’s Polar Vortex in Canadian outlets seemed more the status quo, with most of the country facing sub-zero temperatures:

 

640x480_currents_ca_temperature_i1

 

The US “low temperature map” used a slightly different temperature spectrum, but preserved a more alarmist image of anomalous weather conditions even in the National Digital Forecast:

 

temperature spectrum us vortex
The striking visual was on the borderline, at the eye-catching freezing of Niagara Falls, that icon or liminality:

 

52d0f434d39a1-1024x614

 

The distributions that charting the mid-July summer chill newly arrived in the Midwest and much of the East coast of the United States from Canada is less striking, even if it will bring dips of twenty to thirty degrees form the normal.  NOAA omits Canada completely from its prognostications of the arrival of the coming cold, as befits its role as a national agency, and restricts its purview to United States coastal territories, even though it would make the graphic far more credible to offer a greater coverage.  It provides something of a summertime counterpart, however, in which the probability of lower temperatures than usual seem to create a ring about the same lakes, radiating almost to the Atlantic coast:

 

NOAA POLAR VORTEX

 

Where is the center of this new system of cold air? With roots in Hudson Bay–where else?–the polar air will be spinning southwards at the upper levels of the atmosphere, spinning southwards toward the United States. There were past migrations of arctic air over Quebec and Maine, back in late January, 1985:

 

Polarvortexjan211985

 

The Detroit Free Press even seized on a recent NOAA projection of a similar displacement of arctic air, that locates the center of cool air migrated toward Michigan, forming a pool of air that had descended into the central United States, as if to cast the event as something like local news, even as it suggests the rise of two weather systems:

 

safe_image.php

 

The occurrence isn’t strictly polar, or arctic, in its origin.

But the results are the consequence of a sort of distorting decentralization of the polar cold air outbreak that hovers around the arctic circle, running around the pole and allowing or protecting cold air from drifting south, containing cold air or not it its high altitude low-pressure system.  (Of course, the west coast is poised for a dryer and hotter-than-normal week.)  The decline of snow and ice around the Pole, combined with the warming of the wobbly gulf stream, will allow the chilly polar air to spill southwards to the plain states, covering not only Canada but spilling outside the low-pressure system and over to the seaboard, in a sort of nervous breakdown of meteorological model behaviors.

The disturbances of equilibria in our weather maps makes it worthy of more than symbolic note. The increasing variability that the waviness of the outer line of the low-pressure system, or jet stream, related to the declining snow cover in the far north, in the a “warm Arctic-cold continents” pattern, where the compact containment of colder airs was broadly breached.

 

Jan5_Nov14-16_500mb_geopotentialheight_mean_620

 

The lack of equilibrium in the stream of polar winds–distinct from the widening polar ozone hole–opens up more of the terrestrial surface to chilling shifts in temperature. As much as the embodying a low-pressure system, the map is a narrative of the disruption of climactic harmony, and view toward the future of weather systems world-wide.  The results of the wavy polar vortex, joined with rising world temperatures, create a map of bizarre spottiness in average world temperatures that is difficult to conceive or map, precisely because its high-altitude distribution is difficult to transfer from a spherical to a flat surface, and because its distribution unfairly privileges the tracking of cold air in ways that seem, misleadingly, to fly in the face of the maps of our overheating world.  This past January, NOAA crafted a digital globe that displayed the distortion of local temperatures distorted beyond the norm, with cold displaced from its polar resting place, resulting in a cognitively useful modeling of a disjointed jigsaw of cold and warm air, where the warmer deviations of global temperatures spick not only over western Russia and Alaska, but at the polar regions itself.

 

 

polarvortex_airtempanom_610NOAA Climate.gov

 

The result is a jigsaw reveals the breaching of cold air from the cap of winds that encircle the polar cap has a enough of touch of biomomorphism to echo ecofeminism; the forcing of warmer air patterns resembles a blurry sonar image of curled-up embryonic twins resting in a womb as if evoking the shape of future weather systems, offering a biomorphic visual metaphor for something like an eery augur of a future holding limited possibilities for an afterlife–and of the unknown future of our planet’s atmosphere.

 

 

2001SPACEODYSSEYABOL1

Leave a comment

Filed under climatology, ecofeminsim, Great Lakes, meteorological maps, Niagara Falls, NOAA, polar vortex, weather maps

The Betrayal of Sykes-Picot? Maps and Syria’s Civil War

The newly formed “Islamic State” spreading across Iraq and Syria re-writes maps of the Middle East at the same time as it dismantles the very idea of a territorial mapping of the region.  There is a tension in it both articulates a “State” in dialogue with existent maps, and the many maps drawn of the region since World War I, and denies territorial bounds.  On the one hand, the harmony of the Islamic State boasts to address justice and human dignity “for Muslims everywhere” with true universalism, but is almost impossible to map as a political entity, or without taking account of the recent destabilization across the Middle East, and the failure of civil society in Syria.  While its boundaries will remain unclear, the rhetoric of purification and restoration that is animating the logic of a “New Caliphate” strongly draws on rewriting on wrongly imposed boundary lines that are the vestiges of imperialism.  Indeed, the new divisions forged in the landscape of a civil wars in Iraq as in Syria, whose claims for legitimacy increasingly derive not from a civil solution to a multi-ethnic cosmopolitan state, but from the invocation of a Sunni successor to Mohammed respond to a longstanding destabilization of the map across both countries which deserves to be mapped.  Invoking a Sunni heritage of transcendent harmony that would void the authority of all civil states, erasing divisions in an area extending from the Mediterranean to the Gulf, responds to ongoing destabilization brought by ongoing and mutating civil war.  Rarely has a state conjured up a map both with such rapidly shifting and somewhat hypothetical frontiers, and so clearly engaged with multiple traditions of mapping, even as it denies inherited frontiers.

The apparent endgame or sectarian standstill have made it particularly difficult to map either the boundaries, continuity or coherence of Syria as a region.  Maps of the region’s destabilization offer a point to engage with the newly announced Islamic State than any maps we might devise, for the expansion of this new Caliphate seems to lack clear frontiers as it lacks clear models of civic engagement and indeed the execution of Christians and members of other religions to an extent unimaginable in western civil society.  From having seized the rebel-held city of Raqqa, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) sets a new stage in the struggle against the Assad regime–or threatens to usurp it, based on the reconstruction of a different map than has ever existed in the region.  Despite the attempt to create a sense of mythic unity through their own media organization, producing compelling dramatic videos for viewing on YouTube, and calling for an Islamic State purified of other religions, and cleansed of colonial legacies, by demanding obedience to a region without bounds, the group appeals to an imagined map of the region’s unity, and indeed an imagined collectivity–unlike the Free Syrian Army or existing Syrian state–and the dismantling of the civic structure of Syria or Iraq as a nation-state.  The appeal of a broadly defined religious unity so powerful among foreigners rejects civic participation, but follows a notion of purification of an imagined state, detached from the very historical events and influences tied to threats of destabilization.

How can we best map the very results of destabilization that we have wrought?

 

1.  The Challenges and Limits of Recent Regional Maps

The problem seems to map “Syria” onto borders in which its citizens can believe is quite urgent.  Recent American commentators tie the implosion of the Syrian government to the imposition of “false” colonial boundaries uniting multiple linguistic and ethnic groups.  But such mapping of ethnic divides fails to reveal the fragility created by recent destabilization of the nation.  For while Syria’s cosmopolitanism lay in its diversity, mapping “divides”  of religion, language, and ethnicity only start to imagine the failure of Syria as a state.  Indeed, the failure to examine the true contest on the ground in Syria continues with the repeated sectorization of Syria as a region of disparate ethnicities and linguistic groups, as if to undermine the coherence of what was long a fairly cosmopolitan collection of urban metropolises, towns, and more rural regions.

 

Levant Map of EthnicitiesWashington PostAugust 27, 2013

 

The  static nature of such splintered maps provide little basis to understand local or regional unrest.  Recent data visualizations better excavate the levels of instability on the ground.  Given the depths of instability that continued civil war has created across Syria, maps of the Syrian conflict suggest the fragility of the region’s future as a state in ways that the “Islamic State” would undermine.  This is not to say that the state is destined for dismemberment or decline, but that its unity has been systematically undermined.  While the ISIL forces seek to erase the border between Syria and Iraq reached at the Sykes-Picot Accord that divided the countries’ borders to benefit European interests in securing allies in the region, the continued destabilization of the Syrian civil wars increasingly evident in recent news maps.  The continued breaching of Syria’s own boundaries, and the displacement of populations within its failed state, provides tinder for the illusory harmony of the Caliphate as a restoration of a lost harmony that has become endemic across the land.

The mapping of divisions within Syria and on its borders suggest the deep failure of the Syrian state.  The Islamic Caliphate’s stated aim of undoing “the partitioning of Muslim lands by Crusader powers” resurrects a largely theocratic inheritance removed from the divisions of civil life.  To be sure, the region has been multiply re-mapped since ancient Roman times.  But calls for an “Islamic Caliphate” that would incarnate a unity of values and principles parallel the disintegration of Syria as a nation–which, notwithstanding the continued tenacity of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, has more clearly become failed state since Assad’s deadly crackdown on the Revolution from 2011, and the illusory nature of past promises to step down “in a civilized manner” back in 2012:  the extremity of his government’s violations of civil and human rights have made him one of the most wanted men in the region.  Indeed, calls for Sunni unity respond to the destabilization across a region that created through the radical exacerbation (or fabrication) of increasing sectarian divides. We’re apt to see the region through the coherence it had in the Ottoman Empire–an administration undone after the close of World War One at the secretly concluded 1916 Sykes-Picot Accord that transformed three administrative regions to zones of European influence.  But the resurrection of an imagined region extending from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates in the Caliphate respond to the destabilization of its coherence on multiple fronts, and seek to conjure an imagined unity across divides increasingly evident in maps.

Indeed, the results of the failure of Syria as a state from 2011 are themselves quite terrifying to map, given the huge displacement and .  The internal displacement of some 1.2 million Syrians and refugees in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey has created a humanitarian crisis of incalculable proportions and duration.  In fact, charting maps of instability across the region would offer a better basis to track its emergence than define its boundaries in the situation maps and news maps we produce. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria seems an impossible cartographical construction in an ongoing stalemate across Syria that is already difficult to grasp.  Even as we finally have more accurate maps of the civil war’s spread across that arc around the desert lands at the Syrian interior–many of which exist thanks to the courageous Cédric Labrousse, any resolution of its divides seems only more far away.  We are too unclear about the strength of the rebel forces as relations between Islamist groups and the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, not to mention the coherence and ambitions of an entity of an “Islamic State.”

The imperative of mapping provides one of the few ways to retain coherence of an increasingly contentious, bitterly divided, and fragmented region.  The divisions between areas held by Syria’s failed regime and the forces of rebels and ISIS troops have been as difficult to grasp, given many covert divisions.  The destabilization of the region is evident in an aggregate map of civil disturbances in the Syrian conflict from 2011 to 2013, most concentrated inland of the country’s more heavily settled western coast, which presents a difficult picture of a land long divided; the useful interactive visualization from the New Scientist, which effectively illustrates widespread civil conflicts across the country as a heat-map of ongoing unrest to suggest the difficulty of mapping local allegiances or consensus.

 

Aggregate Civil Conflict mapped in Syria

 

On the one hand, the invocation of the mythic promise of restoring a “new Caliphate” suggests an illusory harmony that would be more present on a map than on the ground.  Its invocation no doubt reflects a desperate search for a “more just world” by a symbol of sacred unity, it is a hope for a more just path to modernity.  How can we understand the solutions that such an invocation of a mythic state allows?  When we continue to project deep ethnic divisions at the base of this strife into maps, we make it harder to stock both of the political vacuum in the region, made all the more evident with the demand to transport gas and petroleum through a region which has already been deeply destabilized. Indeed, despite attempts to discuss the lay of the land only by noting its sectarian divides as battle lines, or the revival of sectarian hostilities in the region that are nearly as old as Islam,” the implosion of the political map of the region seems a redrawing of the territorial tensions assuaged within the former Ottoman Empire.  The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, once relegated to the history books, has however begun to haunt the endgame of Syria’s civil war more prominently than ever with the dismantling, after a century, of boundaries drawn at the historical Sykes-Picot Accord of 1916 that constructed Syria as a national state and region out of the administrative entities of the former Ottoman Empire, in this reverse-visualization which imposes the ghosts of those former regions onto the region’s current map.

 

Rand McN CompositeNew York Times; drawing from Rand McNally 1911 world atlas (Ottoman Empire and its districts)

 

It has become increasingly difficult to ask what sort of map might relate to a political resolution of the deep divisions that have spun out in an ongoing conflict that claimed over 150,000 lives and promises to claim many more–or, more importantly, imagine what sort of map better serve its residents.  Yet it is clear that we can map the depth of the sources of instability across the regions of Syria and Iraq.  The nation-states clearly don’t correspond to a tapestry of the faiths of believers, nor do  divisions across the regions only respond–or constitute the precarious endgame–of timeless animosities western media read into the deep-set conflicts across the region and have often invited us to use to interpret them–and read the maps of sectarian violence.

 

Area map of mid-east ethnicity

 

 

We have only begun to be provided with accurate maps of the Syrian conflict, perhaps now made more imperative with the declaration of the “Islamic State” by ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levantine.  The truly terrible and horrific costs of such sectarian strife were long either difficult to note or absent from most maps of the region, even as lines of the ongoing civil war are contested, difficult to define, and hard to mark by clear lines:  boundaries are blurred in even the best  maps of mid-2012 and mid-2013, tagged as if by an air-brush or graffiti spray paint, reflecting an ongoing problematic mapping of a state for at least four years, as westerners puzzled at what the boundaries of that state might be. Rather than mapping the unity or continuity within Syria in a uniform manner–for that uniformity has been lost–the mapping of Syria poses problem of representing the nation’s future identity and unity, as well as the continued costs of ongoing statement of its civil war.  The declaration of the “restoration of the caliphate” by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levantine runs in the face of how we are apt to create states on maps and use maps to frame questions of state-formation.  Indeed, the troubles of mapping Syria–and the destruction the unity of Syria in the revolution make it increasingly difficult to envision the extent of the destabilization of its ongoing civil war to a potential resolution.

 

1518943_675487862500794_3661606343253302832_o

 

2.  ISIL and the Fragmentation of Syria’s Civil Wars

The multiple situation maps devised to depict the contested region over the past year implicitly respond to the deep question of what pathways American or foreign assistance or intervention in the region might take, at the same time as what a potential exit strategy would look like, rather than embody the group that still possesses no clearly recognized boundaries, even if it has retained its Facebook page as a terrorist group (ISIS) until June 16. The very difficulty of mapping contested boundaries now seems a sort of inevitable prelude to the declaration of an “Islamic State.”   Even though the evocation of that entity has made great claims to represent all Islam, and the leader of the Caliphate of all Muslims is only rumored to have appeared in a video, filmed in Mosul’s largest mosque, with the declaration that all nearby Shia shrines had been destroyed.  The raging of war has been mapped til recently as a “civil” war, within the confines of the Syrian state–whose shifting divisions are not often clear, or so clearly able to be mapped onto ethnic and spiritual divides, but are focussed on Syria’s most settled regions in the north and along the Euphrates river, although this seems to be ceasing now with the arrival of ISIL troops.

The broadening of areas of military contestation, particularly along the Euphrates, is suggested in the below maps, as well as along the border with Iraq, in northern areas with Kurdish militias, and to a lesser extent on the border with Jordan, as the cities have emerged as battlefields.

 

syria_uprising_2012-7-12 syria_civil_war_rebel_control_map_2013-08-22

Map by Evan Centanni, August 2013

Can one map destabilization by its effects?  Despite the absence of horrific violence in these maps, there is a desperate attempt to register the cumulative effects of war in the synoptic maps that tally displaced persons created in the civil war in offset boxes, although they only skim the surface of the war’s disastrous effects on the regions of a divided Syria:

 

Costs of Syria's War US Department of State, Jan 14, 2014 (Congressional Research Service report: Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response)

Or this declassified map of the numbers of Syrians fleeing violence of 2012:

 

People Fleeing Internal ViolenceUS Department of State, Humanitarian Information Unit 13, June 13 2012

An expanded detail of the unclassified 2012 map for the US Department of State reveals the strong concentrations of refugees and displaced Syrians on the recognized borders of the country, both along and near recognized crossing of international boundaries with Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq, which is particularly telling, but which notes the far greater number of displaced within the Syrian “state”:

 

Borders and Refugees-  Syria and Surroundings

 

The far greater regions of contention reveal a country that was, as of December 2013, not only sharply divided but some of whose largest cities–Homs and Aleppo–remained divided within themselves:

 

contested areas

Map by Evan Centanni, December 2013

(More current maps of the region, that include the spread of the ISIS in the north of Syria and along the Euphrates, are accessible from Political Geography Now, who have tried to provide current maps of events in the region.)

A similarly striking interactive map of the deep and ongoing costs of civil war has been constructed in ongoing fashion each day, collated daily on the website Women Under Siege, in an effective depiction of endemic violence for many of Syria’s inhabitants–in live crowd-sourced mapping of violence against women and children, where all sexualized individual or group attacks committed by Syrian military against men, women, and children in the region, localized in a Google Map format, as soon as they are reported:

 

Women under siege

 

These costs are absent on other maps of regional division that suggest the region’s destabilization.  The tactical “situation maps” that we consult condense information in easily legible formats to parse varieties of assaults and strategic battles–but omit all those attacks not so far confirmed–but presents a contemporary up-to-the-minute image of the high costs of the violence of sustained civil war.  Much is always, of course, omitted from these attempts to chart the results of a terrifying civil war that has claimed untold lives and created refugee crises across the region.  Even as the Syrian government seemed to have won control over a large area of the coast from Damascus to Homs, a situation map released by the BBC this March 2014, using five colors with two different shades to suggest the varied limits in government’s increased control of regions save in its East and North.   (The BBC map met be a bit misleading, given the town-by-town nature of the current conflict, but suggests the difficulty of establishing any boundaries or clear frontiers in the regions.)

 

BBC Situation Map March 2014

The divisions are often mapped in more shorthand ways.  Just a bit more recently, this far more simplified map, less credibly dividing the region in coherent blocks, remind us of the remove of our own attitudes to the area, even as we discuss sending munitions to the “rebels” with greater ease–and indeed as we want to make that prospect seem credible, firm divisions between “Opposition rebels” and “Government forces” more clear, and Kurdish forces more consolidated–the “Government-held lands” in this 5-color visualization which omits the fact that most of the Syrian “Government’s” territory consists of desert land:

 

Syrian Civil War March 14

Such empyrean maps of course betray the more complicated situation of affiliations on the ground, if they indicate the major players involved. The eagerness to declare some sort of entity joining Anbar province with ISIL-occupied areas of Syria, hoisted on Wikipedia as if it were a flag, since deleted, as if it offered confirmation of a state along the regions of the Euphrates; the vision of territorial unity was far more imagined and displayed online than every existing in fact as a set of boundary lines.

 

Bad Wikipedia %22ISIS%22 Map

The invented unity has now been expanded so that it fits far greater imagined parameters, as if it constituted a nation-spanning-two-borders, despite the hypothetical bounding a block of solid color; such cartographical conjuring covers over the continuing conflicts on the ground, and belies the attempt to expand across frontiers at a greater rate than ISIL seems able to sustain:  the appearance of a bridging of a unity of parts of Syria and Iraq, linking the Tigris and Euphrates risks gaining an exaggerated coherence in many on-line maps that all but obliterate sovereign distinctions by rather ineffectively superimposing it on a generic Google Maps template with absolutely no sense of local opposition or ongoing struggle:

 

July 7 BBC

 

Such cartographical sleight of hands of erasure belie the far more limited web or skein of points of revolutionary resistance, and reflects, in the bounds of this amorphous identity, the seizing of individual villages as much as a growing state-within-two-states.  So much is made more evident in the multiple strongholds mapped as of July 7 2014 by the BBC, which suggests the limits of understanding occupation or territory in Syria or Iraq in strictly territorial terms, and the basis of the group in select cities from Mosul, Kirkuk, and Qaim to Abu Kamal, along the Euphrates:

 

BBC July 7

 

But the ostensible aim of the ISIL Caliphate is not only to be limited to the merging of Syria and Iraq, or the uniting of these states, but to hearken back to a Caliphate of worldly dimensions, in a map widely circulated online, if far less precise in measurement, which places the enlarged states of “Sham” and “Iraq” at the heart of a worldly empire, notably erasing Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as well as Israel, and reclaiming the Andalus, in an image far more evocative and ideological than objectively construed:

 

Isis Rempas Middle East

 

Yet the projection of such propaganda suggests the deeply embedded cartographic stakes of the newly expanding Syrian civil war.

 

3.  What about the Map Devised at the Sykes-Picot Accord?

At the same time that we adopt such situation maps to try to grapple with the military situation that has unfolded on the ground, the Anglo-Irish scholar Malise Ruthven recently glossed the quite prominent role one map has played in the social media of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant–a significance Ruthann went to considerable lengths to unpack.  He traced a compelling genealogy of the concerted engagement of Syria’s boundary line in a quite provocative short article some have found to give greater weight than necessary to the role of Europeans in shaping the region after World War I, based on the prominence given to the destruction of the old line of territorial division in ISIL’s social media. To be sure, ISIL  has prominently celebrated the bull-dozing of the Syria-Iraq border by troops, redrawing the map imposed on the region as a way of purging the region of its colonial past, or to destroy the memory of the line established with the 1916 Sykes-Picot Accord, secretly concluded between British and French governments by the French diplomat François Georges-Picot with his British counterpart Mark Sykes after World War I:

 

iraq-syria-border_jpg_600x720_q85

 

Yet does one deny some of the autonomy of the demands to emerge as a state not existing on a map by increasing the proportions of the significance of the Sykes-Picot Accord in most jihadists’ minds?  Does this vehemence really rest on the redrawing of the Eurocentric boundaries determined at the 1916 Sykes-Picot Accord? It is something of a striking conundrum that at the same time as our news outlets increasingly rely on a profusion of detailed logistical maps to grapple with the shifting role of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant–or, in a more mysteriously evocative acronym, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria–we might be missing how Sunni forces have seized upon the symbolic destruction of a map of artificial and utopian social division by which Europeans carved up oil-rich lands along divides which never existed as abstractly neatly surveyed lines that cut across the rivers running through each region into the parsing of a near-perfect polygon. The image of the tweeted image featuring the destruction of the boundary line is something of an advertisement of the ISIS forces to redraw the map of the Middle East, affirming, no doubt, a less secular model of the state that approximated a theocratic order in place of the abstract line that the two early twentieth-century diplomats arrived at in an attempt to paper over anxieties about the fall of the Ottoman state, and what could take its place of administering what were already recognized as oil-rich lands.

 

sykes-picot-crop_jpg_600x681_q85

 

The historical Accord of 1916 was, of course, primarily intended to imagine a similarly viable construction of “buffer zones” and “spheres of influence” to replace the Ottoman regime and secure British authority, rather than to frame a national identity in ways that reflected the situation on the ground.  The idea was to project a balance of power, rather than build a state, and maintain a viable status quo as seen from the eye of European powers–without much regard, in other words, for local inhabitants or populations, by carving clearly divided colored blocks:

 

sykes-picot-19164.  Re-Examining how ISIL Re-Maps Syria

The region of Syria was, as a province, divided and re-divided by colonizing powers since the Roman Empire, for whom it was an important entrepôt and shipping center, but the recent ISIL denunciation of “crusader partitions” is a response to the difficulties of imposing divisions on the territory but the increased intervention in a region whose governments don’t respond, propped up as they are by the West, to local needs.  As images displayed on social media, the invocation of old maps also response to a search for newly powerful symbols to inaugurate a new era.  To be sure, guilt about the Sykes-Picot Accord may be haunting the West, in ways akin a return of the repressed–and of the forgotten figures of state who negotiated these territorial divisions in the wake of World War I, short-changing their inhabitants–but also provide tools of inciting opposition and to search for new forms of government.

ISIL leaders assert they are in the process of dismantling and destroying the imposition of a false map on the region that fighters are poised to destroy. Such demonization of the colonial may in itself be a bit of a smokescreen for a call designed to mask or suppress sectarianism in the name of fighting against and repulsing a common enemy:  deep tensions within competing parties are choosing a foil to rally around, it seems likely, and a lingua franca of resistance to imposed categories evident in an old map of the same region:  rather than protect clearly ethnic enclaves or promise a more stable social map of the region, given the pronounced hostility that has been shown to Shia shrines and mosques, and extended to the desecration of graves, in what seems a new form of terrorism: “desecrating [the] graves of saints.”

Such widespread destruction of a sacred space in the region promises a clear disorientation in and usurpation of the region’s sacred space, as much as of the Islamic state.  In Syria alone, both the Syrian government’s forces and those of revolutionaries have engaged in the desecration or near-demolition of shrines in Aleppo, Damascus, Raqqa, Tal Maruf in northern Syria near Tel Hamis and elsewhere in the country, vandalizing Sufi shrines that Sunni scholars have long recognized as worthy of reverence, mirroring how Wahabi groups responded to the power vacuum of the Arab Spring. The destruction of graves has gained a new outlet, to be sure, on social media, as Nusra front rebels polemically displayed on YouTube the exhumation of the thousand-year old grave of Hujr ibn Adi, a revered Shiite figure, and an attack on the shrine of Muhammad’s granddaughter, in ways that have radically further destabilized the region and its inhabitants, as has ISIL’s attack on shrines of Owais al-Qami and Ammar bin Yasser, an early companion of Muhammad revered both by Shia and Sunni muslims alike. Can we get some data journalists to map the destruction of such a topography of centuries-old sites of reverence, if only as a destruction of historical memory?   Such long-revered holy sites are destroyed after being attacked by Wahabi groups who week to expunge them their memory as a pagan legacy, and widely displayed to audiences on social media with destabilizing intent.  The broad expansion of violence appears less the manifestation seventh-century theological debates than of how representatives of different theological sectarian stripes have been demonized by their association with foreign powers and political parties.

 

protest   ISIS Shrines   Execution squads Destroyed Sufi Shrine

 

Calls for religious, ethnic, and national purity are in short aimed at destroying the civic space that the civil war and Syrian Free Army are fighting to preserve.

 

5.  The Perils of Re-Mapping Syria’s Changing Space

Something closer to the destruction of the very stability of the map as a flat surface bound by clear lines seems to be occurring with the rejection of political parties and existing systems of political representation.  Longstanding cross-border raids on shrines have been mobilized and ramped up both with calls to arms are relayed by social media.  The desecration of Islamic shrines has blossomed to the denigration of human life. We are faced with huge problems of mapping the divisions within the region, but might do better to look at the situation on the ground. The problems of mapping what the Economist in April 2014 termed the “ebb and flow of horror” tried to capture the complexly contested struggle on the ground that approaches pitched battles of resistance between fracturing rebel forces and mutual restarts to torture and kidnap, in this complexly delineated mid-April 2014 map of the contested territory that still lies between Aleppo and Damascus, and the Golan Heights, reflecting the odd geographical situation of Syria and the plagued nature of its status quo, and suggesting little sense of potential resolution, and reminding us of the low density of population outside the Western cities and the Euphrates:

 

Syria divided in Economist April 19 2014

 

The division of Syria into an ongoing endgame only broadly maps onto the divisions between Shia and Sunni groups that have consumed the region.  For Syria has become a battleground of the different political possibilities that started to play out in the “Arab Spring,” when Assad first demonized protestors as Sunni terrorists.  (Assad’s inflamed rhetorical posturing no doubt led to a tabled plan to invade the Syrian state.)

 

Sunni:Shia

The pitched positions held by opposition rebels along the Euphrates and select pockets of the country’s north, suggesting the huge cost of contested lands, and defining the distribution of the Islamic State along the rebel-held areas on the banks of the Euphrates:

 

Rebel Strength along Rivers

 

But the political divisions suggest the broad manipulation of sectarian groups for political interests, exacerbated by the reliance on religious networks to create state entities not only in Shiite Iran, but the US ally Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria, in ways that have given new vitality to the ISIS or ISIL as an opposition group. The more current conventions adopted within the New York Times to rewrite blocks of regions as if securing enclosed fortified redoubts might be more accurate representations of the piecemeal back-and-forth that we now think of as the advance of the ISIL, and a situation on the ground where lines of control are less clearly understood as blocks of territorial administration, but as villages that either accept–or came to doubt as occupiers, in a negotiation of apparent lesser evils.  Indeed, the ongoing civil war has come down to a battle over individual villages and cities, it is clear, that have threatened to implode the very nature of Syria’s future unity:

 

NY TIMES ISIS control

 

Invoking the imposition of th e Sykes-Picot as an explanation of current events–for all the appeal of its cartographical neatness and cross-cultural misunderstandings that underpinned the deal which gave the Arabs less say over the determination of their boundary-lines–may be beside the point.  It casts Syrians as actors who react to European cartographers.

What effect was there in Sykes-Picot than the inscription of false boundaries of territoriality among new nation states?  Previously to when Sykes-Picot inscribed these boundaries so optimistically in the land, a clear organization of the provinces that make up the current Iraq existed, but which offered greater respect to divisions of settlement as well as religious and ethnic bodies:

 

ottoman_empire_asia_1792

 

Indeed, calls for a “New Caliphate” on Sunni grounds conjure an illusory harmony that would be more present on a map than on the ground in somewhat romantic and somewhat desperate ways that would be a legitimate representative of the Islamic faith. The expansion of the unity of administration of the region was understood less in terms of notions of territorial possession and coherence, in this 1873 pre-WWI Arab world as a province of Syrian possession in this Arabic map, which labels the Palestinian area as the “Province of Syria” and cast the current region we associate with “Israel” as part of that Province.  But the map is not an equivalent to the expansionist hopes of the current Syrian National Socialist Party:  it rather uses mapping formats to create an undifferentiated waqf that freezes property rights of a privileged few in an administrative region, with only superficial resemblance to the notions of territoriality–which we are tempted (wrongly) interpret as if it possessed territorial boundaries:

 

ottomanmapisrael1873

 

But it didn’t have such territorial divisions as a waqf.  Maps of course quite capably conjure imagined social bonds of unity for the West, even across a region where boundaries were perhaps far more fluidly understood, and the attribution and imposition of coherence is particularly difficult at a time when the declaration of a New Caliphate has prompted some soul-searching in social media, and not only among Middle-Eastern intellectuals and religious scholars about how and why this new entity has materialized.  Regional coherence is something more akin to a speculative creation in this 1895 Rand McNally atlas, where “Syria” is prominently noted, but seems to lack clear administrative boundaries, as well as extending to the East Bank of the Dead Sea, abutting Aleppo, Palestine and Lebanon, and the cross-cultural Mesopotamia of particularly fluid bounds.  But to call this administrative map a model or precedent for a divided set of sectarian regions seems too easy an alternative.

 

Rand,_McNally_&_Co.'s_new_14_x_21_map_of_Turkey_in_Asia,_Asia_Minor._Copyright_1895,_by_Rand,_McNally_&_Co._(Chicago,_1897)

 

This slightly subsequent 1911 Rand McNally map of administrative divisions is difficult to read as a guideline or model for what might emerge, especially because of the sustained violence that has emerged in the region. But what, for that matter, is Syria?  Although the costs of war always resist mapping, the involvement of foreigners on sectarian grounds in the country’s civil strife that make boundaries and territoriality subvert any clear mapping of the war.  The hidden motion of military materiel across boundaries have  as Ban ki-Moon has recently astutely observed, escalate the military violence in the region in ways that upend any narrative of victory:  as aerial bombardment of civilians continue, while others are starved, and flows of refugees grow, the massive costs of war are pushed down the road. Is this search for a map in any way able to be compared to the impact of the destruction of sovereignty or territory and regional destabilization that was accomplished in the Iraq war? Of course, a scrabble to inscribe such divisions in order to administer or effectively organize the region for exploitation and commerce emerged after World War I, with the Ottoman Empire’s demise. The image of the area could have, of course, been quite different, and were actively proposed on repeated occasions, with the promise from the English that Arabs were worthy of greater territory for joining combat against the Ottoman Empire.  Multiple acts of cartographical conjuring exist:

 

syria_arab_kingdom

 

For boundary lines know no inherent bounds in the region, and are not themselves the basis to generate its unity.  As recently as 2011, the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party evoked the expanse of Syrian lebensraum, appealing to the unity of a catalogue of ancient semitic tribes of Mesopotamia, addressing linguistic and cultural divisions in the region by defending the “organic unity” of a “greater Syria” that occupied the Fertile Crescent as one region that “blended Canaanites, Chaldeans, Arameans, Assyrians, Amorites, Hiffites [sic], Metanni and Akkadians.”   This oddly erudite neoclassical spin on the ancient world as bound by the Taurus and Zagros mountains around Mesopotamia is pictured below.   The recent map of Syria’s Social Nationalist Party indeed enacts its own cartographical fantasia, by encompassing modern Israel in its bounds, and renaming the Mediterranean as the “Syrian Sea” that adopts a vision of the region from Damascus which oddly perpetuates the Sykes-Picot myth that all sovereign bodies are to take more modern form as territorialized nation states by mapping their frontiers on clear lines, yet also to try to reconfigure the map of the Mid-East around a mythical-historical image of “Syria”–and treating the map as an explicit vehicle for national propaganda.

 

Greater-Syria-Map

 

6.  Remapping Syria?

How to even consider boundaries based on the return to a potentially endless redrawing of lines? There is currently much talk of the necessity of partition and even support for partition from Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, since the geopolitical world of post-WWI Europe is not alive, nor the Cold War détente that inherited it after WWII, in hindsight it is incredible that spheres of influence weren’t seen as perhaps just the wrong way to continue to conceptualize the region, and even buffer-zones, which tend to misunderstand the on-the-ground divisions in terms of a jigsaw puzzle of a map that isolates what we define as potential radicalism.  

Especially as the considerable stakes for geopolitical control of regions of oil and gas supplies become obscured in the very mapping of ethnic or religious diversity. With increasing atrocities on the rise in Iraq, any prospects for a peaceful resolution more distant, subverted by regional violence across Iraq, the needs of refugees and people have been obfuscated–as have the different divisions of faith.  And ISIL has emerged as a uniquely border-crossing state, linking both Syrian and Iraqi sides of the Euphrates and using border crossings as sites to exchange personnel, war materiel, and munitions, linking two nations separated for a century by a border line as a new entity, as well as to hold potential energy sources–like the Haditha Dam or Falluja Dam–on which so many Iraqis depend. How can one map destabilization without reverting to a map dismembered by ethnic divisions?

The re-writing of the border between two states once were constructed by Europeans is an active re-writing of the political topography of the region, to be sure, although it is difficult at this point to know how it would translate into a map, or be translated into a pragmatics of mapping.  The discussion of remapping the region in ways that would respond to the tensions between groups’ relation to Islamic religion don’t bode all that well. In Iraq, it increasingly seems that the potential canonization among Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish factions, the disintegration of the territoriality of a bounded state provides a poor analogy for the sorts of sectarian division that we are likely to see:  while it might be opportune for the West to imagine an oil-rich Shiite stronghold in the heart of Southern Iraq, would the concentration of wealth or resources in any way benefit the society as a whole or at large? If, as Robert Worth has suggested in the New York Times, “greater power . . .  ultimately . . . devolve to provinces and cities — a process that has already been underway since the Arab uprisings,” is the sort of de facto partition of Iraq, a nation that has existed some ninety years, into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish districts.  This is the same sort of sectarian war that ISIL–or ISIS–seeks to incite. Such increased parcellization of regions not only risks the stoking of ethnic animosities, but if analogous to the sort of “controlled burnings” of forest fires, to destabilize the region rather than serve the interests of its inhabitants.  We surely seem to impute a oppositional divisions among Shia militias and Sunni groups than may in fact exist.

These divisions are not at all so clear on the ground, or perhaps so clearly beneficial to anyone in the long- or short-term:  there seems to be a fomenting of religious divisions among a region, but perhaps the continued resort to a drawing and redrawing of lines to create a sense of unity offers the least chance of clarity or resolution. We have, in the West, perhaps performed something of a sense of collective amnesia, in our evocation of Sunni and Shia animosities, and Kurdish separatism, of the huge divisions of destabilization that we have so readily performed on the same territory in the more immediate past. Even the most recent invaders of the region appear unlikely to remember the instability and geopolitical disruptions that have so deeply undermined the region’s political coherence.  One might more meaningfully and profitably look at far more recent maps to begin to map the continued destabilization that has recently played out across the region as a whole.  For these divisions not only re-wrote the administrative divisions between the regions in the Ottoman state’s provincial borders–although it recalls the division between Mosul, Zor, Basra, and Baghdad, now redesigned to encompass the desert regions west of the Euphrates around Baghdad as if it were Berlin–but failed to respect the differences on the ground that Iraqis faced in seeking to act as administrators of a “new” land of ancient divides.

 

Division of Irq 2004 by forces

 

The above map of the occupying forces of Iraq were not explicitly directed toward Syrian territory or sovereignty, but created a site of desirability and destabilization from which future divisions of the region–and the relative success and difficulty of ISIL (or ISIS) must be mapped, as well as the hunger for a New Caliphate.  For what is a New Caliphate, but a recuperation of an ancient dream of peaceful unity?  Some years ago, Syria’s 92-year-old mufti quickly issued religious edicts that called for Syrians to fight in Iraq and sanction suicide operations against the Americans and their allies even though he was a renowned man of peace, as his words, with those of other clerics, inspired men from Aleppo, Damascus, and elsewhere in Syria who became the prime exponents of a jihadist movement.  Their maps of regional organization, as much as the maps of military control, are worth our attention and investigation.

 

Coda for Syria?

2 Comments

Filed under Bashar al-Assad, ISIL, ISIS, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levantine, Malise Ruthven, mapping political destablization, Mapping Syrian Civil War, news maps of Syria, Syrian Free Army, waqf

Cabstopping: Data Visualization and the Re-Mapping of Urban Space

Data visualizations often employ maps to make their point, and organize an effective argument that will engage their audience:  when we see data embodied in a map, and are best engaged in its interpretation.  The alchemy of the data visualization is a magic way to throw the map’s content into multiple dimensions:  data visualizations offer plastic forms of mapping to illustrate the way we fill and occupy space, transforming the mechanics of mapping specifically intended to track the stability (and meaning) of constructions of place, and orient us to different perspectives on how we move through space.  We can better understand the ways links can be drawn about data in clear synoptic terms, and reassured by the act of discovering new patterns in a readily recognizable form.  In describing the spatial distribution of an attitude or affinity, maps are readily consumed.  But they are also cognitive tools to process shifting notions of place:  the sleek tapering negative lines in the above visualization of San Francisco’s cab traffic offers a dynamic model to define the inhabitation of urban space and how relations between cities’ center and margins might be best mapped.

Data visualizations are not present in the recently published primer “Make Map Art” invites us to adopt traditional cartographical tools as helpful strategies to “creatively illustrate your world.”  Mapping has long been rooted in the world of graphic design, and the siblings Sue Swindell and Nate Padavickake Map Art invite readers to embrace the diffusion of mapping as a form of making in the service of self-expression in this lovely book, whose championing of the hand-made map seems a counter-strategy to the near-ubiquity of Google Maps on hand-held screens and maps in evites, embedded in social media, that direct us to a destination.   The toolkit in Make Map Art invites us to adopt tools and forms of maps not only as orienting tools but instruments of “creative illustration” that suggest we rehabilitate forms of mapping as our own tools.  These maps are marketed more as a hobby than a strategy of resistance:  but in their romanticized vision of the self-made map, a sort of trickle-down of the popular resurgence of hand-drawn maps, they neglect the diversity of spatial knowledges in their “creative toolkit” of easily mastered tools of design.  The handsome how-to book offers some twenty projects by which to frame  cartographical interventions in a world already abuzz with maps:  but the forms of mapping 2-D toolkit primarily marketed in stationery shops and bookstores neglect the most interesting ways cartographical design has caught up with how increasingly stark social divides have come to structure quite divergent perceptions of space.

Web-based maps are not included among the toolkit for map-your-life/make-meaning-from-maps they present, since their medium doesn’t fit the niche audience or the Luddite inflection of the book–or the sense that the map, once considered a tool of government, can be a relaxing way to order space in a world where we are all too often confronted or running to consult a handheld screen.  But this might be unfortunate.  For in a culture where we are consulting or faced by screens in  the forms of attentiveness data-driven maps create compelling models for charting our occupation of space and indeed processing our own relation to space in particularly creative ways.  If the screen often provides compelling tools to grasp our increasingly uneven occupation of space to a degree of visual attention unlike–although not foreign to–static maps.  They can show us how we fill space, and how our experience of place is redefined with a rapidity that the static design of a local or regional map has difficulty continuing to fulfill its orienting functions.  We are impoverished by circumscribing our access to a full range of mapping forms.

 

 

SF Traffic

 

In their engaging how-to book of personalized map design, Swindell and Padavick offer a something like a basic toolkit for those eager to respond to fears of being dominated by data.  In designing customized maps, one might resist widespread concern for being regularly mapped by unwanted forms of surveillance, and indeed dominated by the ways in which our lives are regularly mapped.  But Padavick and Swindell don’t push back that hard: they dwell in the cozily utopian idealized spaces that any map invites viewers to inhabit. It’s cool to play with our sense of space and abilities to create forms of personal orientation for ourselves or indulge in returning to cut-and-paste type of social media of material design in a DIY guide for fashioning personalized geographies ready “to be framed and displayed as artwork” to gain new decorative status as personalized cartographies.

Data visualizations, unlike static maps, define the networks of interaction in which we have increasingly become enmeshed, tracing forms of  inhabiting place that are often illuminating of the complexity of navigating place than they are comfortably reassuring.  Map-based data visualizations orient us to the shifting ways we fill space and inhabit our streets, and make interpretive demands on their viewers about how we actually have come to use our space.  For while the formats of maps offer cool tools of spatial orientation that remind us of the favorite streets we love–and how we walk across them–if the alchemy of data visualizations remake maps as especially creative tools of engaging with one’s environment, they process our own relation to a built space in dynamic ways, effectively organizing our orientation to space by revealing contours of divergent perceptions of and access to space in cities–spaces that are now no longer easily mapped by public transport maps, grids of streets, or even schools and social services.  The patterns that data aggregates are particularly valuable as a tool to unpack the changing occupation of urban spaces, from public parks to freeways to avenues, and to interrogate the practical and real boundaries of known space.

 

1.  Maps that derive from big data offer particularly versatile tools, in contrast, to visualize the ways that we inhabit space and, by extension, how we travel through it and make it our own:  much as flows of information or currency or patterns of immigration, data maps show patterns of collective action that is rarely otherwise aggregated, and help us visualize how we inhabit space in dynamic ways.   They present the ability to map a network around both space and place as, indeed, constitutive of both, dispensing with and not adopting a static cartographical frame of reference to describe our relationship to space.  The alchemy of data visualizations allows us to  illustrate shifting relations between urban centers and peripheries in a map, tracking shifts in the nature of mobility in urban space, beyond a physical plant, but embodying how GPS readings tracked each cab across urban space as they move on major arteries, noting not only their positions over time, but indicating patterns of traffic, shifts in density at different times, relative rates of acceleration and different speeds of travel–all to chart how different dynamics by which the aggregate of cab riders’ experiences across urban space, the access to urban space that the self-selected demographic of cab-riders share, and the areas of cities that remain off their maps.

The dynamic results of such data visualizations provide compelling ways to understand the organization of urban space.  And in such lies their attraction for puzzling the existence and resilience of place.  “Cabspotting” at San Francisco’s Exploratorium invites us to track cabs as they carry fares at different rates of speed and acceleration across that city’s thoroughfares.  The data visualization is designed after the pioneering aggregate mapping of cabs in San Francisco’s streets by stamen design’s Shawn Allen and Eric Rodenbeck, displayed in a gallery setting in 2008 at MoMA, and first designed in 2005 by Scott Snibbe, Amy Ballin, and Stamen design.  This “high art” of data visualization was devised as a tool to reveal social, economic, and cultural data about the city in a variety of video platforms, exploiting the ability to download massive amounts of data about city cabs in aggregate that could be graphically condensed to a single image of apparent simplicity that spoke volumes on space use.  “Cabspotting” (2005) created an innovative alternative model of revisiting the city as a permeable and open space that was at the same time structured by economic patterns and social divisions in urban space:  the famous visualization of how people use cabs to inhabit urban space re-envisioned the city’s physical plant in a dynamic data-driven pattern varying trail length in response to cab speed.  Its particular power as a data visualization lies in its tracing of a collective iteration of individual itineraries, whose line thickens as they accelerate, creating an image that asks viewers to cathect to real routes through and across the city–either in an aggregate view as below, or in a real-time film of the routes and speeds on which cabs move.

 

Cabspotting

 

We are able to enter into the pathways along which the city plan is traversed and experienced, as well as occupying an Olympian point of view.

The sinuous traces left by the aggregate of cab-fares allow us to watch cabs moving at different velocity and acceleration across the city, to reveal a haunting socioeconomic X-Ray of the city’s space, and pathways within in its streets.  While omitting large areas of poorer regions, from Hunters Point, Bayshore, or Daly City, it illuminates areas in the financial district arrived at with disposable income:  thick lines of rides near the shores show a general acceleration, especially on the Central Freeway, Market St., the James Lick Freeway or the 101 and 280, as well as along the Bay Bridge and out to the Airport, reveal a dense distribution of cab lines filling the city plan that hinges on Market Street.  The absence of a network of freeways built within the city seems to have helped cabs’ circulation, but cabs are limited to a dense occupation of downtown streets.  Indeed, if the sort of freeways and highways were built over and across the space of San Francisco in the way that they were in other cities, perhaps the illumination of that gridded downtown would be less prominent in the Stamen visualization–although one can still discern the 101 or James Lick Freeway and Marina Boulevard leading to Ghirardelli Square in the Stamen map, imagine the shifting spatial spread in a city defined by the proposed arterials which would have rendered the city more navigable, but faced such intense local opposition that they were never built.

 

picture_4

 

The animation of traffic around San Francisco Cabspotting celebrated the unique space of San Francisco’s streets, removed from a world fearing surveillance.  It also provided a model for processing data from taxis to illustrate the ways we use cabs to inhabit and navigate a city’s streets, emphasizing what routes cabs take and how San Francisco’s urban space is navigated, by taking up the perhaps oxymoronic proposition of surveillance technology as truly inspirational, in Scott Snibbe’s phrase.  The resulting graphic illuminates a hidden geography of how San Francisco is experienced across time in cabs, whose tracks trace a socioeconomically differentiated space in ways that cast the city’s physical plant in a dramatically new lens, where the density of downtown peters out to wisps along those avenues where fewer cabs run their fares:  Cabspotting set a compellingly high bar for data art.

The compelling portrait that emerges from the Stamen visualization offers of primary routes of cab entry generated considerable excitement for a virtual palimpsest of how urban space is navigated by paying customers in a city on a single day.  In ways that privilege specific areas of the downtown, and the larger streets–around the bay near the Embarcadero, down Geary Street, along Mission Ave. or nearby Civic Center, it suggests a living template of the city, noting each cabbie’s trajectory of driving by a white line, and increasing the size of its ghostly white lines by velocity and frequency of cabs.   As a form of GPS-based art, the ghostly image of the city may have shaped Jeremy Wood’s use of GPS in 2009 to track his personal cartography in the Gliclée print “My Ghost”, imaging an overlay of his own itineraries over the span of a year, but Wood’s image lacked the richness of wealth implicit in Stamen design’s data overlay.  Even if it suggested the lack of access of certain areas of London to Wood’s experience of the city, and a wide wandering over a hairy looping of space, the individual migrations through London streets suggests restless  iteration of an individual across city streets, unlike the densely packed social clustering of cabs  concentrated in the downtown San Francisco and accelerating along freeway lines.

 

my-ghost

The image of Snibbe and Rodenbeck offered a memorable real-time contours for a city’s urban space that show a far less dispersive wandering around the vagaries of urban byways, and a focussed repetition of routes around a relatively restricted urban grid.  In each of its successive animated time-lapse iterations and real-time rehearsals, the Stamen’s “Cabspotting” re-mapped urban space by tracking the collective aggregate of motion across urban space, using data from embedded GPS data of position, speed and acceleration to remap a strikingly plastic living urban landscape in dynamic–if haunting–ways:  pay-per-fare riders sculpt streams of traffic across its major streets and thoroughfares, rife with cab rides, appear illuminated by the aggregated overlay of rides over time, showing the different rides of the city that were being performed as if to condense a residue of the collective transit through the city around select hubs and thoroughfares of increasing or diminishing traffic.

 

Stamen Cabs

 

2.  The wealth of data that the GPS measurements record allows one “map” space around each of the “lines” that designate cab-rides by relative speed, using red to highlight moments of acceleration at a fixed period, in a time-lapse moving image that traced the matrix of the city’s streets.  In ways that predate but prefigure the current rise of on-demand  smartphone-based apps as Umber or Hailo which aim to displace the local cab economies in most metropoles, the pulsing traffic of animated  tracking of taxi-cabs renders the city’s grid in a wonderfully dynamic way:  Cabspotting serves to delineate clear economic patterns and socioeconomic points about how different folks perceive the same space of the city.  The dense glow of traffic around Union Square of cabs parked, circling, or just stationary reveals a center of commercial congregation.

 

colored map cabs' speeds

 

Such tracking of cab-traffic of course may sharply differ in other urban spaces, where centers or commercial districts are more concentrated or differently distributed, and access to space less clearly privilege distinct thoroughfares.   The real-time tracking features of Cabspotting liberated static models of mapping by using GPS to amass data in ways Rodenbeck and Allen could readily visualize in clean lines.  But the “snapshot”-like nature of the Stamen graphic led to some early envy in data visualization, as Kottke and folks on the East coast imagined what a similar data vis of taxi flow for midtown New York would look like, and first obtained the GPS data from taxi trips to create an image of the “vital signs” of where cabbies picked up their fares in the first half of 2009.

The resulting temporal condensation of an animated sequence of cab traffic between January to March, once sped up to suggest something of a regular flow over time  is clearly made to appear synchronized with human cycle of breath, as if to suggest its record of the vitality of the city’s traffic, with fares increasing from 7 am to 8 am, expanding to their highest density in midtown every morning, pausing, and rising again, only to decline in their yellow-hued intensity by nighttime, and leave the city blanched in the early a.m. hours.  (The maps should be looked at by anyone interested in hailing a cab, and as a companion piece to the guide of NYC cab etiquette–asking cabbies “What route do you think fastest?” “instills trust in the driver”, rather than giving directions on where to go–although it is unable to be accessed in real time.)

 

Densest at midtown #4

 

This apparently anthropomorphic time-lapsed image created suggests the inexorable daily constriction and dilation of the city’s vascular system, in tempo with the gorging of taxi fares that slowly dissipate, as if in a forced analogy for urban vitality:  the density of fares in midtown suggest clots more than flow, but provided a neat heat-map of city traffic’s frenetic pace. The distinct flow of cab traffic responds to the dense layout of Manhattan, and the saturation of the midtown and lower Manhattan with cab rides that fan up and down its major avenues.  Unlike the smooth flows out of arterials and to the outer edges of San Francisco, the knotted nature of the New York City visualization suggested a rigorous diurnal rhythm of relatively small trips of privatized transport, densest at the city’s midtown hubs, and reaching over to its wealthier east-side avenues.  But while its anthropomorphic form may be stretched as a bridge fusing nature and culture, the map reveals in important ways the individual specificity of taxi patterns within an urban topography, and indeed the specific diurnal fluctuations that define the demand of taxis–fading as we approach uptown above the blip of the 79th street subway lines–and suggest distinct rhythms of distributions and concentrations of demand for cabs that appear across each urban space, focused in midtown below Central Park, along Broadway and Third Avenue, and specific spots in lower Manhattan.

 

Screen shot 2010-04-05 at 9.05.50 AM Screen shot 2010-04-05 at 9.05.50 AM Screen shot 2010-04-05 at 9.05.50 AM taxi-flow-nyc   taxi-flow-nyc

The specific density of midday midtown reveals a complicated geographical picture a city served by experienced drivers doubtless working in tandem with a sense of its rhythm, best able to gauge the shifting traffic contours of urban avenues.

 

Densest at Midtown #2

This image, if interesting, has been recently refined in a two-color data visualization that refine the image of how New Yorkers enter and exit from taxis to navigate New York’s urban space.

 

 

3.  The more recent visualization of Eric Fischer has re-mapped a specific topography of ‘cabstopping’ by aggregating the range of cab hailings (blue) and destinations (orange) across the city for 2013.  An even more massive amount of cab data was recently declassified after Chris Whong and Andrés Monroy used New York City’s Freedom of Information Law to obtain a copy of the taxi records from 2013 they soon published on the web.  The big data of some 187 million geo-located cab-rides inspired transportation visualization guru Eric Fischer to map the aggregate of total rides taxi drivers gave passengers across Manhattan’s particularly packed automotive space, now on Map Box, in a striking visualization of the collective use of cabs across Manhattan.  The map’s strikingly clear block-by-block topography is of striking precision; it illuminates how densely cabs are concentrated in midtown Manhattan and how specifically the vast majority of pick-ups and drop-offs center in specified regions–and how omnipresent are cabs up to Columbia University and 96th on the East:  cab-density, unsurprisingly, is a measure of socio-economic wealth and property value.

 

Big Mapping NYC Taxi Trips from Open Data

 

The social topography of the city is balanced by the white skein of veins in midtown that define a special density of cab-use along major traffic arteries.  And it presents one way of mapping a changing configuration of center and periphery across the city. For Fischer, a fan of both crowd-sourced mapping and urban transport system, dissected the data in visually compelling ways by highlighting the starts of taxi rides in blue and the end-points of destinations in orange, a spectrum that allows us to map the topography of collective cab-use around Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. The demand for local usage of cabs isn’t divided into analytics, but provides an image of the density of cab-use in an actual topography before folks like Uber or Hailo threaten change its face–and seem to use their own GPS tracking to exploit by a smartphone app to connect passengers with vehicles of hire, provoking some concern about using GPS to charge fares, and adjusting fare rates in relation to the density of traffic flows:  indeed, the apparently clear preference of New Yorkers to use Uber in off-peak hours and geographically removed and less-served locations suggest that Uber might, in New York, be better conceived as complimentary to the apparently engrained services of other cabs.

 

Uber hand

 

The data that maps coordinates for the start and end of cab rides provided a way to “map” what places New Yorkers are most likely to hail a cab–perhaps the most difficult places to get a cab, but also no doubt those areas where cab-drivers aware of an increased demand–as local knowledge of cab-riding more informational of urban space than even the most comprehensive transit map–and perhaps augur the life-span of cabs in the age of Uber.  It also offers a readily accessible instance of open data which provides a nice counterpoint to the banality of the Google-Maps-based cityscapes that feature on demand cab-hailing apps:  or the difficulties for the sophisticated software that sets its rates in relation to the hours of increased intensity to offer what an actually accurate image of the urban space in which it promises travel.

 

Hailo:Uber

 

But lets return to the subtlety Fischer’s coding of end points in orange and sites of hailing in blue allows.  The aggregation is so dense that it defines the entire street grid.  Most superficially, a scan of the data visualization he posted shows the hailing of cabs to be clustered on avenues where cabs congregate and course North or South–joins legibility with aesthetics, charting where New Yorkers access and stop cabs to tell us a lot about the navigation of the city’s grid in its crowd-sourcing of automotive itineraries.  It deserves plaudits for elegantly synthesizing an exact visualization of the unique ways that folks use urban space:  of the over a million and a half taxi-rides that were taken in 2013, most concentrated in the cab-mecca of Manhattan, most seem to be taken along the North-South axes of the avenues, somewhat predictably, with a striking density of destinations on almost all of the major streets, often ending along North-South avenues.  Fischer’s map almost illuminates the grid of city streets in ways that tell us considerably amount the range of disposable income available to Manhattanites as well as to most visitors to New York.  The intense activity that the cab occupies as a sort of “second car” and mode of transit suggest a fully served community, if it sacrifices data on speed, acceleration, and delays that might be necessary to really measure effectiveness.

 

187 mill Taxi Trips in NYC

 

4.  Access to this huge data offered a rich vein of data for Fischer, a data artist who often sources huge amounts of information off Twitter, to work characteristic visualization alchemy in a static spectrum to conveys the dynamics of how people move in patterns to organize urban space.  While the image is 2-D, the fading and clustering of its range of illumination invest the Manhattan grid with an illusion of three-dimensionality by using a simple set of primary hues.  Indeed, the phosphorescent blue taxi pick-ups create indelible records of where the cabs were “spotted” and used, although something of a patina in this digital visualization is created by shimmering “GPS-static” in the more densely built skyscrapers of the city, which are odd artifacts of the mechanics of data collection:  as Fischer notes, in certain spots, GPS signals have reflected off buildings’ windows, in ways that add an other (if not welcome) layer of legibility to the map of the city’s space.  (Far crisper contours of cabs’ signals arrive from streets that service the much lower-lying buildings of Brooklyn or other boroughs, even if cab-traffic there is far less intense.) We can read the data visualization to detect the conscious choices of cab drivers to negotiate the flows of urban traffic, even though the image is static, based on the similar clustering of overlays in data.    Although midtown is somewhat filtered beneath  a gauzy layer of interference or blur of GPS-signals’ distortion, as is much of lower Manhattan, reflecting the interference created by urban canyons of clustered skyscrapers that render GPS reception less precise–though we can see the white heat of cabs hailed or congregated at businesses and hotels that serve as sites of conferences and conventions, and detect a temptation to leave rides on East-West streets,as on Central Park South and 57th Street:

 

Blur of Midtown's White Heat

 

The data visualization charts the tacit mechanics of the topography of cab use, by using a orange-blue color differentiation to set of regions where destinations dominate cabs hailed or flagged and journeys begun, and where they leave passengers.  We can see a sharp preference to take cabs to destinations on East-West streets, negotiating a topography of traffic that taxi drivers’ familiarities with the different velocity in the white-lit larger avenues control.  In contrast, the specificity of red bulbings of destinations at various crosstown blocks where passengers stopped cabs suggests a specifically situated transportation midtown, even with clear evidence of the blurriness of GPS-interference.  (GPS fixes are also less easily held near LaGuardia airport, as bright red “worms” approach the access roads of terminals, as if to indicate “premature” arrival of a cab stopping before where they were surely headed; a pattern of blue blurs result that seem air-brushed, in comparison to the crisp lines in Cabspotting.)

 

GPS Fixes near LaGuardia Airport

If the Bay Bridge stood as a beacon of taxi density in the Stamen visualization of San Francisco, La Guardia seems a brightly burning beacon off Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Bridge provides a lighter but indelible tie recording of inter-borough taxi traffic.

The traffic patterns recorded in the visualization reveal a palimpsest that demand interpretation of denser lines of red (where cabs leave folks in the city) and a tool to investigate how city space is used and what neighborhoods visited per annum:

 

Strats Blue:Ends Orange-BrooklynBridge #2

 

Red lines are veins across New York City’s Central Park, where one can’t imagine the destinations are actually along the crosstown lanes of traffic that run on paved roads across the park, where tunnels that cabs run through seem to have interrupted the GPS signals as well at 86th street, 81st Street, and 66th:

 

Veins around park and Mysterious Red Dots

Brightly lit blue lines illuminate 5th Avenue, a street almost always crowded with cabs, and light up both lanes of Broadway, in ways that offer a beautiful visualization of the way we demand to be driven in Manhattan’s urban space and across its street plan that demand to be pored over with a magnifying glass in hand to best interpret its elegant aggregation.  The map can help us create a better navigable urban space–and perhaps respond to the needs for taking cabs in the city–by mapping needs of public transit, and the readiness of customers to use cabs to navigate urban space.  The street plan provides tons of neat points about the nature of collective behavior, as all aggregated data, nicely foregrounded in Fischer’s color scheme:  just as we detect bright blue sites of starting cab-rides near the Brooklyn Bridge, if considerably brighter in Manhattan, and notice bulb-like orange clumps of drop-offs in Dumbo–the downtown municipal buildings are the looming black blocks.

 

Strats Blue:Ends Orange-BrooklynBridge #2

The blue bulbs at street corners give a more likely (more convenient and better) place to start one’s cab-rides in Manhattan, as our GPS lines bulb out at centers of cab-hailing at intersection in the form of a Q-Tip, suggesting considerable refinement of the data, in spite of the occasional blurred reception of GPS signals:  some corners burn an incandescent blue.

 

Corners are often Bulbs

 

5.  The specific transportation needs that taxi cab services supply suggest a distinct manner for negotiating urban space at a pace that public transport can’t provide, and a particularly resilient form of a local economy.  How might this relate to the specifics of the survival of the cab as a viable vehicle and model of transportation (and the regulation under which cabs function)? In an era when GPS’ing pickup locations in the crowded downtown by Uber threatens the cab-drivers who have so long made their livelihood in the city’s streets.  It awaits to see how the density of cab traffic already available in the city will react to the influx of passengers with handhelds.

 

uber

 

Indeed, despite the universalizing nature of Umber’s intentions, the app they offer may best function  precisely in those cities and urban areas which fit the traffic patterns specific to San Francisco most closely.  San Francisco, the city where the app was first devised, offers a unique problem of navigation for taxis:  pedestrians and inhabitants both face a scarcity of free cabs and often face the need for long trips from downtown to, say, the Inner or Outer Richmond or Pacific Heights, call cabs over to the East Bay, and are often located at a distance from taxi stands, and where fares might have too much difficulty hailing a cab at later hours.  And where single women who want a secure ride door-to-door make up, it’s been suggested, a major portion of the fares.

As Bradley Voytek has noted in a neat on the Uber Blog, in a neat weighted diagraph visualizing the flow of rides from one of San Francisco’s neighborhoods to another, noting the aggregates of rides leaving a neighborhood by a circle of varying size and drawing weighted arcs in the color of the neighborhood of a destination, the flow of Uber rides predominantly originate from South of Market or downtown–the largest point of departure of Uber clients by far.  Almost all the rides originate from the downtown.  This clustering of rides around a single region of the city suggest a restricted range of sites of departure for on-demand rides, and a marked clustering among three neighborhoods from which users predominantly originate–although it should be noted that Voytek used dated data rather than the data Uber now possesses–and offers a larger visualization here.

 

Rides into neighborhoods Bradley Voytek

 

Might one decide to map the different topographies of traffic flow across different cities in the hopes of predicting how well Uber offers a fit for the navigation of a distinct urban space?  Even with the increased homogenization of cities, the underlying plans and patterns of local traffic provide some guide to its potential “fit” with local traffic and cab-use. It demands investigation how the market would adjust for Uber to be most complimentary to local needs.  The integration of GPS with a local taxi economy has been recently argued to create an artificial scarcity of taxis squelching competition, but to champion the free market approach runs the risk of setting off shocks in the local economy of providing short-term rides that has developed in the city’s somewhat fragile transportation economy.  For as well as reveal the pathways of negotiating urban canyons of New York, the visualization reveals a delicate local economy in which car-users navigate the available calculus of transportation–a city where few drive the cars they own every day, and despite a relative density of car-ownership in Manhattan and New York City as a whole.  Indeed, many don’t even rely upon cars–despite the incredible density of cars per square mile in the relatively affluent region, according to the data mapped in StreetsBlog LA.

 

Vehicles:Sq Mile NYC   Vehicles:Sq MileStreetsBlog LA

 

Viewed another way–vehicles/person–New York City seems relatively low-density, indeed, because of the sharp contrast to outlying “suburban” areas or peripheries:   few cars are used for commutes, and multiple car ownership is quite rare.  Reasons for owning vehicles shift in different social topographies.

 

Car Ownership in NYC and environs Vehicles:Person StreetsBlog LA

 

The stark contrast in the regional distribution of statistics of car ownership are striking on the micro-level of Manhattan are indeed evidence of a large commuting culture, where many cars belong to commuters who live in more car-friendly lands outside the five boroughs:

 

NY-Vehicles-Per-Person   Car Ownership in ManhattanStreetsBlog LA

 

While the bulk of cab-rides are based clearly in Manhattan’s metropolitan traffic, where garages are costly and urban street space at a premium, the data visualization reminds us of the continued importance of cab services to negotiate local space.  The relatively subtle tool for moving in a narrow time-window that cabs provide offer an increasingly needed medium to move through and use space that seems unwise to disrupt not only as a way to move the city’s economy, but for the very reason that it is so deeply established of negotiating specific constants of its traffic patterns and laws.  

If Uber is able to navigate it, best of luck.

Leave a comment

Filed under Amy Ballin, cabspotting, data visualizations, Eric Fischer, Eric Rodenbeck, GPS, Kottke, mapping city cabs, maps and surveillance, Scott snibbe, Shawn Allen, Uber, unwanted surveillance

Are We There Yet? The Plane in the Map

New markets of maps are always emerging, and we seem to have our own interest in making maps for an growingly de-centered globalized world.  But perhaps one of the oddest markets is for the rehabilitation of the itinerary in a globalized age, a rehabilitation that seems not only against the grain but designed to bequeath greater familiarity to a space often felt to shift beneath one’s feet.  While airline-produced in-flight tracking maps are generated for paying passengers for utilitarian ends, the fairly antiquated medium of spatial representation is compellingly abstract.  Among the most familiar insistence of the maps we encounter while strapped behind waist-high restraining seat belts, they have been recently marketed as  interesting items for home display.  We’re far more used to watch them in airports, pondering the possible times of delay or the weather patterns that could scotch a trip or one’s best hopes for one of those multi-airport itineraries.   But since 2013–almost an oxymoron–one can not only access on a handheld a worldwide map of all flight delays, or a Flight Aware Misery Map of weather, flight delays, and cancellations across the continental United States, but purchase a personalized printed and beautifully framed 26″ x 29″ one-of-a-kind map of flight itineraries, through a partnership with Sporty’s Pilot Shop, “ideal for office or hangar,” to relive the flights by a sort of symbolic retracing from above of flight paths once taken:

Flight Aware Framed Map

 

The translation of the iconography of in-flight panels to the framed pictures addresses a select audience.  It suggests a new permutation in the work of art in the age of digital reproduction.  Its very online availability suggests the expansion of in-flight diagrams and FlightTracker programs as acknowledged areas of graphic design and data visualization, as much as a search for new outlets for our augmented abilities of cartographical transcription.  (Perhaps the prime market for such framed mementoes would be airplane pilots, but they are available for the general public.)

The marketing gambit should not be so surprising, given that FlightAware now boasts, as of June 2014, some 4 million registered members, and with its own real-time FlightAware TV, features live maps for HDTV that have inscribed the routes of airplanes onto one’s central nervous system, if not one’s spatial imagination.  Indeed, the purchase of the elegantly framed map is perhaps a memento of the in-flight monitor one watched on the trip, or, better yet, of a spree of business trips between January and June of 2013, say, associated with the marketing of a special new product or an investigation of potential shooting locations or trips of birdwatching, in either case providing a neat memento of the miles one clocked that allowed one to gain enough points for that trip to Java.  One wonders how many of these maps are sold, or where they are displayed.  But the flight-path map is wonderful rehabilitation of that pre-Ptolemaic genre, the itinerary, despite the illusion of the global coverage of in-flight maps:  for these maps are charts of an itinerary, that are meant to be read without any needed consultation of the superfluity of accompanying detail they offer.  What, if any, is their metageography, save the recursive itineraries across a geographic imaginary?  It is hard to say, but it seems to erase or suspend knowledge of learned geography.  True, the AirShow maps used by Air Canada include a degree of topographic detail and bathymetric outlines that suggest the importance of geography in school and university curriculum.  But the chief end of the mapping is to erase the sort of first-hand knowledge characteristic of classical itineraries, and rehabilitate the itinerary in an abstractly Olympian form that fits the sense-deprived medium of air-travel.  One is traveling over, not through, across, around, or beside–not an to show an itinerary of known way posts or recognized landscape markers.

 

Peutinger chart

 

In-flight maps are best responding to the anxiety of “are we there yet?” in an knowingly globalized world, however, and marking a known geography while making little demand for geographic familiarity.  The tracking of flights has been greatly improved by Garmin GPS systems, which allow a readily calculated position of the airplane in which one travels above the land.  Rather than trace the motion of the plane across a map, however, as one might by reading such framed mementos of flight-paths, the in-flight map on one’s personal monitor.  Needless to say, the template of the map most often shifts below the plane–itself stationary as a projected map moves beneath the symbolic glyph–in these maps, which allows the plane to be centered in the visual field of the displayed map, simulating a purely schematic but sufficiently convincing view of the plane’s progress:  moving map devices were widely employed before the advent of GPS, based on other methods of determining location; they allowed the option of showing the plane in motion to represent its distance traversed and even elevation.  But as the intersecting position lines of a hyperbolic navigation system, GPS allows greater determination of location to represent simulated overhead views of a slew of planes over stationary or moving maps.

But the expansion of versatile in-flight itineraries clearly seems to be in part technologically driven–as, indeed, are much of the return of GPS-based way finding systems–to counter a sense of disorientation with a graphic based on instrumentally measured knowledge.  The very certitude of tracking a flight path runs in the face of, and replaces, the maps we hold in our heads of global flows or economic and demographic instability, or social unrest.  The expansion of backgrounds to “read” flight itineraries have made huge progress in their relative truth-claims, in a way that often keeps up with the options allowed to be selected on Google Earth, to mimic the LandSat images that provide an illusion of real-time photography of the arcs of flight paths of Air Canada jets, each posed in individual itineraries, like schools of migrating birds or skeins of migrating northern geese, whose routes are readily removed from the terrain, as they in fact positioned in the airspace above it.  We are mapping relations not of proximity, indeed, but relations to a fixed destination–at an abstract remove from geography, but reliant on the map to augment its reality effect.  We are mapping the reassurance of proximity, and the triumph of aircraft technologies over space, rather than mapping lived space.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 6.19.17 AM

 

Flight Aware’s software designers recognize that there are folks who will continue to appreciate the “Classic” viewing mode to picture flight paths within weather systems, for those habituated to a stark background of aerial flights that recall the rather static monochrome monitors or preferring their stark selectivity, as removed from reality as an airline cabin–this is the very mode illustrated in the map featured as a framed keepsake.  There is an undeniable allure o the simplicity and the Olympian supremacy of the in-flight tracing map, if it is not easily understood as an aesthetic marvel.

 

Flight Aare Classic

 

For a company like Air Canada caters to a flight belt between the larger cities above the northern 48, illustrated by the dense trajectories headed to and from Toronto of pixellated air craft so wildly out of scale to the point  individual airplanes overlap with each other–but seem convincing to the viewer as an image of individually tracked flights, whose specific itineraries suddenly become apparent as one hovers over each individual aircraft:

 

Canada Fligths

 

Canadia latitudes

 

The web of these itineraries are the true subjects beneath the cartographical field–or scrim–on which the planes’ georeferenced global position is projected, and is given the sense of tangible reality that it would otherwise lack.  Despite the availability of two viewing modes, the optative mode of viewing in Earth Mode, transcribed in real time, placed against a glorious Google Earth-type view, features a superfluity of cartographical detail in its suggestion of oceanic depths and the mapping the fastly receding polar ice-sheets, saturated with far more detail than their users would need, complete with weather conditions and cloud fronts:

 

Real Time AC

 

real time AC flightpaths mapped

More AC fligths mapped

 

There is a clear attempt to create a more meaningful connection to the image in the map by increasing the amount of local detail in its surface.  What else can explain the pleasure afforded by the super-abundance of cartographical data included in the in-flight map one sees on a flight over Thunder Bay, beyond the increased geographical literacy of many Canadian passengers?  There is something suspect in the bucolic view of the landscape over which we travel.

 

Flying over Thunder Bay to Toronto

 

What can explain the huge interest in innovating new coverage in this genre of map, if not the ubiquity of charting locations on a smart phone, that pocket-sized pathfinder that seems designed to purify our personal relations to the messy processes of globalization, and the need to offer an even more detailed and compelling view of one’s flight en route to one’s destination?  With the increased ease of creating and tracking global positions in such maps of airplane flights, some “moving map” devices even include an option for allowing the chart to remain stationary, and position the progress of the individual airplane within the map, and even, in some versions, note specific changes in altitude.  When hovering over the tracking map, estimated times of arrival materialize beside each flight path.  When viewing the in-flight map en route, there is even a greater abundance of landscape, detailed as if to convey a sense of awe at the arcing over the continental in a truly transcendent voyage:

 

Continental View of AIr Canada

 

The wildly out-of-scale iconography can sometimes get messy in flight-tracking maps:  the problems of overcrowding of flights that may result from the software–or reduced screen size of the monitor–are slightly absurd, due to the density of the sine curve of flight paths used by Air Canada.

 

Canadia latitudes

 

oir the density of Boeing 737-800s in one part of the world, where they seemed parked for refueling–all rendered all the more meaningless given the lack of their individual flight paths:

 

Boeing 737-800

 

But they also can suggest a map of something like a counter-map of global interconnectivity, if we look at the FlightAware map of flying Airbus 340-300’s across the globe, weaving a web of the virtual trajectories of the Airbus flight paths that link (or wrap) the pristine world below, one that triumphantly heralds the achievement and onward march of globalization in its not-so hidden narrative:

 

Global interconnectivity of Fligths on Airbus

 

Surely part of the pleasure of these maps from imagined high altitudes is how they take our eyes off the divisions on the ground below, and ask us to focus on the itineraries in the skies and on the airborne destinations to which they carry us.  Part of their pleasure lies in how decontextualized and how stripped of specific meanings they actually are.  Part of the personal appeal that these maps have lies in how their infinite itineraries run against (or cut across) the notions of embodiment we associate with maps.

In so doing, they take our eyes off of the costs of gas consumption or air pollution of multiple flights, tracing a course above the surface of the map itself, somewhat in the manner of an eighteenth-century chart of navigational routes noted the timetables of Pacific and Atlantic travel–where courses of the instances of known travel of remembered expeditions were rendered and recounted in short textual vignettes beside frigates’ courses.

 

North America with the Opposite Coasts 1775 London

 

supposed courses

 

Unlike this 1775 sailing chart, engraved in London just prior to the Declaration of Independence, privileging paths of nautical navigation to the Americas far above the landmass’ interior, as if for future speculators, the in-flight maps made for airline corporations bear analogous traces of their commercial provenance by what they shift our attention from:  we almost forget that these flight-tracking maps, if admittedly made for one demonstrative or persuasive end of showing time to arrival, omit and mask the continued atmospheric costs of continuing such an access of multiple destinations by air travel–or the gasses and pollution emitted from said flights.   The Institute of Public Policy Research has found that airplane flights–including military and commercial travel–are not only “the least environmentally sustainable way to travel and transport goods” but one of the most dangerous, given.  Our airports are the largest polluters of nitrous oxide of whatever city in which they are located, and, more to the point, flights deposit dangerously concentrate greenhouse gases in the upper atmosphere–and air traffic is predicted to grow ten times by 2050.

For the aircraft that travel on these itineraries pump out carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, of which they already constitute some 4% of global greenhouse gasses, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and emit toxic gases deposited at the highest elevations in the stratosphere, leaving greatest damage because they will remain twice as long in the atmosphere, and be far more destructive of the earth’s ozone layer.  What isn’t mapped in the itineraries, oddly, is precisely the known costs of making the flights, or the deeper impact the proliferation of apparently innocent lines of air travel on our planet’s atmosphere–revealed in part in the map of NO2 tropospheric density pictured below.

 

Air Travel Map 2

no2scia_world2004

 

As of only 2011, the global traffic of planes both parked, taxiing and in flight appears as numerous flies crowding around our centers of population, almost as if to crowd out the idea of embodying a record of inhabited land.  Is this a metaphor to the international fostering of a proliferation of airports on the ground that define our new sense of destinations (and networks) and the crowded color-coded traffic of airplanes in the skies, shown one mid-afternoon, as if buzzing over the prime points of arrival and departure in our new “known” world:

 

Setp 2 Flights over world

 

Felix Pharand Duchesnes, director of Globaia, more recently used his desktop computer to map a global web of flight data available online by links  hubs of air travel.  Duchesnes sought to market a clear graphic of the shifting knowledge about the world, and one of the most striking of his dozen “maps” of how humans have changed or created new knowledge about the world  was to map the density of air travel in order better to visualize the extent to which we are impacting our planet on a global scale.  The abstractly rendered lines of air travel traced between illuminated dots not only connect destinations and points of arrival, but offer a purified sort of spatial imaginary:  they are an icon of a process of globalization that denies borders or boundary lines, tariffs, and other impediments to interconnectedness such s economic zones of protection.  The image performs the reverse operation of embodiment that one is habituated to gain from a map:  rather than embodying regions, crisscrossed routes disembody knowledge from an embodied ecumene:  one sees only destinations and starting points and entrepôt, rather than territorial or terrestrial continuity.

Technology That Is Taking Over Our Crowded Planet

Technology That Is Taking Over Our Crowded Planet
Is this model of inscription the sort of mapping that an increasingly airborne economy has come to deserve?

 

Technology That Is Taking Over Our Crowded Planet

Leave a comment

Filed under Felix Pharand Duchesnes, flght maps, FlightAware, GPS, GPS way-finding systems, in-flight diagrams, mapping flight paths

Our Increasingly Uncomfortable Topographies of Incarceration

The yellowed map documents what indeed seems a foreign country:  the lynchings recorded in US states and counties from 1900-1931 serves as a record of the widespread dehumanization of others in the recent past.  The national map, based on research of the Tuskegee Institute, pictures a nation that seems far removed from our world–a true foreign country, where the tacit sanctioning of public violence against population continued to be tolerated, if the barbaric practice of dehumanization was confined to certain region.  The distribution of cases of lynching across early twentieth century America reminds us, terrifyingly, of an acceptance of such an extra-legal institution of racist persecution.  The violence of vigilantism  against one’s fellow-man was concentrated in the areas of deep south–most especially in Georgia, the center of lynching with the “southern trees” of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and South Carolina.  Its spread was also tolerated further north and far further west to Washington, Utah, and even California.   Such an expansive geography of locally organized vigilantism and improvised executions spread across so much of the United States as a tolerated rites of violence to an extent now difficult to comprehend–going far beyond racism in their distancing of men as others–but based on a similar dehumanization of one’s fellow man, and a forceful distancing of oneself from others’ lives and experience, and indeed a readiness to exempt them from a universal system of justice.  Is it only a historical coincidence that a remarkable geographic concentration of both the growth of federal prisons from 1950 and of rates of incarceration mirrors the distribution of lynchings both along the southern Mississippi and in western Florida–two sites of the greatest growth of federal prisoners?  The echo of exclusionary disenfranchisement is more than eery.

 

map-of-lynchings-by-state-and-county-in-the-us-1900-1930

 

If the past is indeed a foreign country, our own country seems based on an institutionalized ‘othering’ of criminal populations in the institutionalized structures of imprisonment whose activity is cast not only as part of local economies but whose expansion threatens to undermine important social bonds. Although density of the concentration of lynchings across the Southern states evocatively mark a vanished record of openly sanctioned violence of vigilantes and murder.  The tolerance of systematic violence and its density suggest a distance from humanity analogous to the widespread acceptance of practices of imprisonment in contemporary America, although imprisonment removes felons criminals from the public eye.  It seems haunted by the belief that crimes of immigration, drug possession, or other non-felony offenses are best responded to by excluding persons from civil society by mass-incarceration.

The above paper map, made from findings of the Tuskegee Institute and created by the by the American Map Company in circaa 1931, affords a terrifying distribution of the social ills of the inter-racial hatred in early twentieth century America.  The map, based on the decision to compile data on lynchings at the prescient decision of Booker T. Washington, which shows Georgia and Mississippi at the top of the cumulative tally of such a vigilante justice, the locations of the vast majority of which are knownresonates with maps of slave-owning some two generations prior.  It might be more shocking that it also offers something of a historical perspective on the continued s widespread state-sanctioned violence of correctional authorities against imprisoned felons in America today, however–and perhaps a window into how we are able to turn the other cheek to a widespread ‘othering’ of a large population of the nation.  The fairly shocking remapping of the spread of mass-incarceration and prison construction on those areas not with strong local traditions of justice, but terrifying precedents of the absence of legal protections for all citizenry, or readiness to marginalize vulnerable members of society or suspend civil protections.

For infographics on the state of the imprisoned and the costs of imprisonment across the country document a scarily similar image of the civil scars and severe social costs in our own society.  The occurrence of lynchings a century ago might go some way to explain the striking reluctance to abandon state-sponsored executions of the imprisoned in America’s legal system.  The willingness to turn the other cheek to demonized populations by excluding them from either civil rights or legal protection of their persons even suggests a sense of the validity of imprisonment that stayed with us in the disenfranchisement and expulsion of those classified or tarred as felons.  For our prison system seems, as we look at it in detail, to operate outside of the sense of individual rights we imagine a legal system would secure, and reveals a strong sense of excluding demonized members of our society from the social order, out of the belief that incarceration is the best service we can provide.  This is a question that we might do well to revisit, especially when we consider the widespread evils that a socially sanctioned system of particularly violent retributive “justice” held across several generations in a good number of the counties of the United States.

 

Lynchings focussed in South?

 

Maps indeed condense showcased pictures of nations, akin to the recognized image of a distinctive visage of a nation.  The below national maps of incarceration offer a troubling image of our civil society, in which our system of justice seems to tug at its seams of civil society as we direct increasing resources to maintaining a carceral state across the country, making it impossible for the expansion of vicious cycle of prison construction and imprisonment.  As US courts continue to imprison more folks than China–a nation whose population is nearly four times our size–the attempt to believe we are able to control the spreading number of imprisoned, and to continue to deny prisoners any rights, suggests a greatly diminished notion of the social good.  The provide something of a map of a masked immobile population, relocated from the cities to marginal areas in upper New York state, northern California inland, southern California desert, southern or central Texas, or southern Florida coast, too easy to be forgotten even as we watch, only somewhat guiltily, multiple seasons of “Orange is the New Black.”  For while we are watching sequential seasons of the social interaction among inmates, we are acknowledging both the thin line dividing characters and a carceral system and reaching into the life of imprisoned, voyeuristically, attracted by the ability to cross a dividing line between the imprisoned and those out of prison we don’t often traverse:  the inmate-inmate sociability among women we almost seem to know in orange is all the more engrossing because of the setting in Danbury prison to chart the social topography of a foreign land where we like to think of ourselves as unlikely to go.

A set of info graphics on the social costs of the meteoric expansion not only of prison populations, but of almost improvised solutions to deal with prison costs, will suggest not only the serious social costs of the continued expansion of mandatory jail sentencing, but the extent of social violence and disturbances that the institutionalization of such sentencing–and of sentencing of young kids to Life Without Parole–has already produced.  The maps of jails and practices of imprisonment across the country show not only a sort of sanctioning and sublimation of a similarly oppositional rhetoric but also their institutionalization.  Maps that locate the changing distribution of prison populations or provisionally released parolees across the nation and state of California–and in urban communities–should send a number of red flags about the sort of society that our tax dollars are working to create through the expanding possibilities of incarceration.  The expansion of the prison industry within the United States has long won widespread ire of many, but has also increasingly been mixed or seasoned by a growing sufferance of the unequal distributions of the prison populations and demographics.  The overt if passive tolerance of the evolution of a system of imprisonment and as a society apart, defined by its own operations, protocols, and possibilities of employment and economic viability within the United States is something akin to a cancer eating at civil society.  “Mass-incarceration on a scale . . . . unexampled in human history is a fundamental face of our country today,” as Adam Gopnik observed back in 2011, and has created a bizarre social map threatening to warp the civil fabric and government alike.  It is no coincidence that the almost routine nature of carceral practices and prison sentencing is at the cry of in the television dramatic comedy “Orange is the New Black,” which traces the lives and fate of women imprisoned on drug charges who we would not “expect” to follow behind bars.  In the Netflix series, a correctional facility re-appears as a  soundstage, in a bizarre sleight of the unconscious where the socially repressed preponderance of imprisonment returns, or the marginalized becomes a stage filled with characters with whom we identify.  We become the complicit audience and spectators:  the show’s broad appeal might be explained in how the following maps of the huge growth of incarceration has dramatically affected our national fabric.

Maps are compelling media to process the reality of incarceration and its hidden and actual costs, and help to confront the huge social costs of the very processes of dehumanization we often want to hide–but risk to create very lasting social and humanitarian dangers.  For we similarly rarely observe either the social costs of the scale of imprisonment that we have undertaken across the fifty states, or the expansion of what stands as virtually a separate state of the incarcerated–a state devoid of civil rights or voting rights, but which is not only increasingly silenced, but which we do not want to recognize.  In a manner similar to which lynching was a silenced rite of violence in much of the south and elsewhere that was rarely recognized–witness the power of Billie Holiday’s song, Strange Fruit, composed by Abel Meeropol, after he was so haunted by photographs of lynchings that led him to compose the song in 1939–until society was made to face its extreme violence to humanity.

 

1.  From an implicit tolerance and acceptance of crime as a part of daily life in urban society, over three decades the United States has transformed to an incarcerating society of proportions that have never been known before.  Prisons are increasingly constructed across the country to house increased number of prison sentences handed down:  their construction is not based on the changed the character of justice, but made prison a procedural part of policing criminal activities, with the result of shifting our social topography more than the economic recession.  In ways that seem to offer para-urban societies of imprisoned life, prison life has emerged as a false compartmentalization of social actors.  This division corrodes the social fabric and may well derive from an obsession with the procedural operations of the law that culminate in the legal naturalization of the process of incarceration.   William J. Stunz implied so much in his Collapse of American Criminal Justice, where he tied the new legal culture that promotes the dominance of incarceration to the institutionalization of the proceduralization of meting justice, that privileges process over individual rights.  If mass-incarceration is the United States has become a part of criminal policy across many states, the criminal system, Professor Stunz argued, is as much at fault for the adoption of jail sentences as part of confronting crime.  The increased reliance on incarceration–and the dehumanization of prison populations held in not only unsanitary conditions but with poor medical attention–create a situation rife with overcrowding, squalid conditions of life, and little structure or actual occupation for inmates’ time.

 

Incarceration_rates_worldwide

 

The poor conditions in the carceral state in the United States parallels both the increasing expansion of a prison system and the privatization of prisons as centers of “managing” imprisoned populations, often including solitary confinement and other abusive practice, rather than responding to rights of humane imprisonment–as if the construction were not an oxymoron. Placed into a proportional record of prison populations, we gain an image of how states are ready to treat their residents, but and the clear domination of southern states–“Red” states?–to a policy of zero tolerance, or readiness to look the other way.  The map conceals the fact that the greatest growth of prisons in recent decades, between 1979 and 200, occurred in Texas (706%) and Florida (115%)–which show ample deep blues of a rich culture of imprisonment–but also New York (117%), California (177%), and Georgia (133%), where imprisonment has increasingly emerged as a way of life, in ways tat seem independent of political parties.  Perhaps this arose from anxieties of immigration in the first two states–Texas saw 133 prisons built in 2000 alone; Florida 84 and California 83 over the same two decades–but building of further prisons to house an expanding number of imprisoned has become routine in our national  justice system:  Minnesota built 60 prisons; Georgia 42; Illinois 40.  Was imprisoning not in some way seen as a way of reorganizing society by 2008?

The annual cost of $5.1 billion in prison construction in 1995 alone to feed this growth of mass-incarceration is unable to be sustained.

 

US_States_by_Incarceration_Rate.svgWikipedia:  prison incarceration rates by state as of 2008; based on statistics from US Bureau of Justice

 

Indeed, the privatization of the process of prison construction in the United States has led a greater amount of prisons to be built in the country than Stalin built in Russia, and has defined us as the paragon of the incarcerated society.  Rose Heyer created stunning map of US prison proliferation from 1900 to 2000 for the Prison Policy Initiative, represented the United States at the International Cartographic Conference and Map Exhibition in 2005, charting the growth of populations housed across the country in federal prisons from 57,00 to 1.3 million.  The result reveals the hidden population of a lost metropolis that is dispersed across the country–whose demographic size rivaled (and now surpasses) the population of the city of San Diego, but are located behind bars across the country, often removed from cities, whose expansion suggests a negative nation within our own:

 

prisons.jpg

 

How to process the map of growing incarceration?  The composer and performer Paul Rucker has crafted an eery performance piece about “the proliferation of the US prison system if seen from a celestial point of view,” animating the augmentation of prisons across the nation through 2005, echoing Heyer’s map, that concludes with in an image documenting the infestation with practices of incarceration:  if light green beacons dot the country with prisons through 1900, yellow dots spring up after 1940, and then morph to orange dots through 1980 in a sequence of pulsating lights that mark prison foundations in ways increasingly difficult to process or get one’s mind around as a growing landscape of confinement. The topography of sanctioned violence against individual offenders may be concentrated in the Deep South for multiple reasons.  But it corresponds to a map of the ready distancing of criminals as ready for incarceration is also an odd echo of the landscape of income inequality across the country.

 

gini-us-by-county

 

More striking is the shift in the topography of US Federal prisons across the land since 1950–when prisons were concentrated in but a few states, and understood to be marginalized from the body politic–boggles the mind:  we live in an era of prison-contracting, marked not only by a growth of state prisons, but widespread practices of incarceration.

 

federal-prisoner-timeline-maps

What happened?  If the spread of prisons map somewhat onto the nation’s major cities, the overlay of red dots that suggest dots of blood marking prisons built from 1981 to 2005 seem to suggest a spread of smallpox or toxic pustules across the land, as the spread of incarcerating institutions finds its counterpart as wistful cello bowing gives way, as the nation reddens as clear regions of penal proliferation gives way, to the current image of the nation in his multimedia performance, and a plaintive cello to concludes with electric bass guitar and  snare drums, offering a frustration and rage against the institution of incarcerating institutions, as much as a mode to contemplate the contours of this new status quo.  The accompanying soundtrack of the multimedia presentation compels attention to the conditions of life for those residents of the expanding carceral state that now confines a surprisingly sizable proportion of the residents of many states–and over 3% of its total residents nationwide, according to a meme that has circulated on the internet, if, just as terrifyingly, it seems to reflect African Americans as much as the general population.  Already a decade ago, many states were approaching or at a situation with 5% of their populations under control of prisons or criminal justice.

 

corr_supervision_2002

Rather than lie concentrated in an archipelago of incarceration, the web of prisons house over 1.5 million inhabitants is a true pox upon our houses, but embodies a large population of imprisoned, spread across the nation in legally sanctioned confinement.

 

Rucker 2005

 

Try to track the same impending expansion of practices of incarceration in dramatic progression, follow Rucker’s transfixing musical meditation on the “celestial point of view” on confinement–http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySH-FgMljYo–to its conclusion, and try to distance yourself from the massive assault on civil liberties that is perhaps its primary consequence.   The terrifying dimensions of such a carceral expansion remaps the country as a center of confinement, as much as an embodied territory.  What happens to the hidden population as a result?

 

Proliferation Animated

 

The dehumanization of prison populations on the ground creates a deeper crisis in health, mental health, and empathy whose impact has still not been fully felt for many other residents in the country.  Yet the impact on the country cannot be denied:  “Orange is the New Black,” a retelling of the true story of Piper Kerman, serves as some sort of barometer of the national subconscious, by which to come to terms with the expansion of such routinized imprisonment as a way of managing populations.  The prison system, indeed, has expanded to provide a system for the geographic dispersal of criminal populations into private prisons that is as striking as the spread of institutions of incarceration across the land.  And among those imprisoned, the rise of imprisoned women by some 646% between 1980 and 2000–or over double the rise for men, according to the Sentencing Project–our prison population has slowly begun to demographically change, the  large majority of women being sent to state and not federal prisons for non-violent offenses.  The show’s huge popularity rests on the degree to which prison-life is not only changing the structure of many American families, but prison society becoming a world whose contours we’re increasingly apt not to know well or to take the time to examine.

The multiplication of prisons across the nation, paired with the habituation of sentencing to jail terms, has created deep social stresses across most of the most challenged communities, most vulnerable to dropping out of high school or fragile family structures where single parents are unable to support kids to the extent that they need.  The “system” has begun to redistribute prisoners across the nation, leading prisoners to often be shifted, on account of the exiling of local prisons or closure of older sites, hundreds of miles from their homes and possibilities of family visitation, like prisoners in Washington, D.C. who are routinely sent to prisons in Texas, Florida, or California after the closure of the Lorton, Va., prison which formerly housed them in ways that radically increase the probabilities of recidivism, basing oneself on statistics from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency of Washington, D.C.

 

DC offenders jailed away from DC

 

The odd expanse of the distribution of D.C. offenders throughout to some twenty-six states nation-wide is not completely atypical for the broad redistribution of inmates in federal prisons in the frequent separation of families in ways that militate against visitation rights.

One can get a similar snapshot of the removal of kids from their parents that acute levels of imprisonment and incarceration generates in this map of children of imprisoned populations in Illinois prisons, in a geomapping of those receiving assistance from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services based on a Statewide Provider Database, breaking the state’s prisons into their racial composition in relation to those children and youth who were in the database from 2009:  the result shows the dislocation of parents from their kids, the isolation of children at an age vulnerable to high drop-out rates, and the vulnerability of African-American families.

 

Incarcerated Parents of DCFS Children

 

2.  And what of the current proliferation of privatized jails, institutions which suggest not only the monetization of imprisonment, but even, in building their economy on institutions of imprisonment, perpetuate an effective incentivization of imprisoning felons?  The augmentation of the number of prisons run by private agencies–contracted out by the state–in a practice that rapidly increased since 2000 in the G.W. Bush administration so that institutions of incarceration now cost the country upwards of $50 billion to administer and run, and have come to be part of states’ local economies.  The rise of private prisons in our society has grown to some extent independently from rates of imprisonment, as they almost seem to generate a false need for practices of incarceration, as multiple contractors of prisons have come to meet the demand in multiple growing states, and not only because they are legally guaranteed to turn a profit.

Although many prisoners were assigned to build military materiel during World War II, to compensate for the shortage of working men, the expansion of such for-profit entities with independent voices as corporations and lobbyists suggests something like a system of displacing costs and balances, an idea with one foot back in the industrial revolution, and another in the notion of paying off exorbitant costs generated by the criminal justice system itself–inserting the expanding number of prisoners in a market for cheap labor that can compete for jobs sent off-shore, oddly congruent with conservative demands to downsize government costs.  The dramatic expansion of private prisons are, for the most part, though not entirely, concentrated in the southern states:  Florida, Missouri, Arizona, Texas, and the trio of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, the top three states most likely to send their population to prison, are the places most likely and ready to send their citizens to prison. The emergence of such for-profit groups as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) or GEO Group constitute not only massively powerful forces of federal lobbying lobbying, investing from 1.5 to 3.5 million dollars in backing legislative efforts to expand imprisonment, and sentencing terms, but to redefine the notion of criminality in ways that are in danger of undermining our democratic values.  Both of these corporations are publicly traded on the Stock Exchange, in a perverse exploitation of practices of imprisonment as money-making ventures.  The GEO Group happily describes itself in corporate newspeak as “the first fully integrated equity real estate investment trust specializing in the design, development, financing and operation of correctional, detention, and community reentry facilities worldwide,” casting itself as an optimum source of investment, rather than as an institution that benefits society or counters crime:  the odd perversion of the rhetoric of institutions of hospitality masks the experience of the prison as a profit-making exercise, somewhat analogous to the workhouses from the 19th century industrial revolution.

Such prisons market themselves as sites of investment at the same time as they constitute something akin to legalized sweatshops, which sanction slave-labor type conditions, unregulated and un-unionized,without overhead, that perpetuate violent sites of prisoner-prisoner violence as well as abusive relations to prisoners, and a virtual race to incarcerate in order better to exploit the incarcerated.

 

Private prisons:imprisonment rate

 

While this map focusses on three companies of “private prisons”, in the state of Texas alone, the number of privately run prisons boggles the mind, and lead one to wonder how their expansion can be seen as responding to a public good:

 

Texas_map_all_privateprisons

 

The extent to which the expansion of such private prisons is now embedded in our local economy has actually influenced members of the US Congress of both political parties, quite recently,  to reject the “Deutch” amendment to ease requirements to detain 34,000 undocumented immigrants each night to continue to receive federal funding:

 

2014-03-29-PrivatePrisonMap

 

Talk of a “prison industrial complex” is not far off, as an invisible republic of prisoners stripped of rights and humanity has been institutionalized with startling rapidity across the nation, where a growing percentage of residents live in confinement.  The rise of prison labor, working for as little as .23/hour, which are organized by corporations like Unicorps, founded by the Federal Department of Labor, based on prison labor, based on “nation-wide locations” that can outsource labor “at offshore prices.” Such an effective acceptance of incarceration as a vital part of local economies distinguishes the United States.  It not only leads to the exploitation of prisoners–and the consequent perversion of a system of justice–but includes the standard the practice of paying inmates less than $1/day or less to package meals for inmates at other prisons or putting defendants not able to pay court fees–especially in immigration cases–in prison as a result. While cutting monies to enforce federal standards for the Prison Rape Elimination Act, states are opting out of monies that might offer recourse to prisoners for abusive conditions, at the same time as “trying to squeeze money out of defendants once their involved with the system, rather than trying to save money by keeping them out of it,” as  has noted.  “They come to America to steal our jobs, so we arrest them to do our jobs,” as Stephen Colbert put it in his recent “Debt or Prison,” relieving costs of incarcerating folks by using them as cheap labor to make meals, scrub showers, or make products, even by ostensible felons who are imprisoned for not being able to pay court fees–creating a system of making more prisons whose cost can be covered by work done by imprisoned, resolving debt by imprisonment in ways akin to workhouses or forced labor.

 

3.  It is important to remember that this is a national epidemic.  Placed in a broader context, the rise of prisons across the land raise red flags about the sad state of the anomaly of our incarcerating society.  The global willingness to incarcerate populations reveals how this lopsided choreography plays out in the global stage, however, and raises some eyebrows about the readiness of our institutional use of prisons across the country, if we didn’t need the living example of Guantanamo Bay as an example of how hard it is to wean ourselves from the incarcerating operations so common to American life as a way to settle social disputes–creating outsized populations of prisoners in such places as Guantanamo Bay, like Panama, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Barbados or Martinique.  According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, American jails hold 25% of all prison inmates on earth. How did prison become such a readily institutionally accepted part of our society and legal system?  Does America provide a model from which the culture of incarceration has diffused?     Prisoner_population_rate_world_map-1

A cartogram of imprisonment devised by The Society Pages, to inflates the size of countries with the greatest incarceration rates, and shrink those countries which incarcerate fewer than 150 per 100,00o people, and expands the United States to Brobdingnagian proportions:

 

imprisonment cartogram

The swing toward ready imprisonment–and the ready criminalization of behavior or reliance on a prison system to absorb the marginalized, despite the clear dangers of incarceration both to psychological health and well-being, as well as to human compassion, suggest a looming crisis in our belief in a system that is not really able to help us in the end.  Since the year 1980 alone–when I was about to start college–the social sanctioning 0f such an expansion of practices incarceration is staggering.  If it is pursued in the belief that it was able to solve social ills that have been barely addressed, and whose cost to our society demands to be recalculated.  Has any other nation ever been able to afford the costs of incarceration that such policies dictate?  At a cost of 24,000 per inmate per year, the costs of incarceration are perhaps most gravely social, but increasingly financially infeasible.

 

 

700px-US_incarceration_timeline-clean.svgWikipedia

 

Our current rates for incarcerating youth are as strikingly disproportionate, raising even greater fear of the dangers of our penal addiction:

 

Juvenile-Incarcertion-Rates-Country-660x369

 

The spread within our justice system of the initials “LWOP”–sentencing to life without parole–seems a fit between the need to house criminalized populations and the expansion of an true economy of incarceration, where the only chance to make sense out of the national population guilty of crimes is to incarcerate them at considerable national cost.  (Prisons bring real jobs to a city, including not only guards, but food services, sanitation workers, drivers, and an injection of federal or state monies, as well as, in the short-term, construction jobs.)  The topography of Life-without-Parole sentencing across the nation is a particularly unseemly sight when we realize the current institutionalization of the sentencing structure across the states, to which New York, Indiana, Kentucky, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Montana, Oregon, California, Alaska are the only exceptions across fifty-one states, across which life sentencing of youths in Florida and Louisiana seem shockingly high and almost legally accepted by courts:

 

6a00d83451574769e2019aff301f6f970d   cfsy_map-sm

 

We all know that growing up in a prison is not the best site for emotional development or health care, the legally sanctioned expulsion of incarcerated from our society has grown, increasingly strong and widely accepted as the consequence of felony:  felons are disenfranchised so widely that in much of the nation poses a real threat to their civil rights.  Most all states deny to prisoners the right to vote, and many extend that to periods of probation or parole, to the extent that over 6 million votes are excluded–even as conservative groups  have seized on prisoners’ voting as the number one form of voting fraud.  With about one in every 33 American adult citizens in jail or prison or on parole–in some form of correctional control–in 2013, the end result is a massive act of disenfranchisement that potentially undermines our democracy and democratic values:

 

Felony Disenfranchisement The potential long-term disenfranchisement of African American populations who are routinely sent to prison for lesser charges, or to those charged with illegal immigration, poses long-term difficulties for our civil society, as well as on our sense of community.   4.  This is true on the level of states, as much as a national level.  Local populations of the imprisoned have strikingly deteriorated over time, as states have not been able to keep up with the sentencing of criminals to prison terms or life without parole.  Even though we saw record-high numbers of prisoners in most states in 2008, when the quintupling on prison expenditures seem to have been first noticed in infographics, the large prison populations in California, the the increased tendency of states to lower prison rolls has hardly reached federal prison.  A record high number of Americans still seems to continued sent to prison, increasing the number of imprisoned Americans for the first time in history to 1 in 100.

 

PRISON POPULATION

To take one example, the tremendous growth in the prisons of the state of California, once considered the pride of the country, has responded to a rage of procedural sentencing–in part due to the acceptance of a new law that allowed victims of crime to speak at parole hearings of an incarcerated, in ways that reduced chances of parole, and allowing the state’s governor to overturn parole board decisions.  And the notorious 1988 advertisement that aired in the presidential primaries, turning the fortunes of George H. W. Bush around by showcasing the dangers of giving a furlough to a convicted criminal led to a fear of reducing incarceration or granting releases on parole, in ways that encouraged the reinvention of criminal incarceration as a new normal, or status quo.  Neighborhoods, family members, and networks of friends share carceral experiences and stories, as well as knowledge of orange clothes, in a seismic shift of staggering proportions since the early 1990s, with few or little sufficient social services to be reintegrated into society.

 

California's Prison Population

 

An interesting statistic is mirrored in how the desire to secure our own borders, and pursue immigration offenses, as much as to police criminalized drugs, has led to an explosion of prison populations in ways that have contributed to challenges in current capacity:

 

Texas

 

One result is a major reason behind the rise of privatized prisons, no doubt, and the deep problems that they create for personal and civil rights.   One hidden story of this splurge of construction–and the institutionalization of prison terms that has resulted–is, incredibly, that the rage of sentencing across the nation has created problems in accommodating and housing–or containing–future prisoners, as the practice of sentencing outstrips even the rapid rate of prison construction in several of the most prison-friendly states, including such large states as California, Ohio, and Illinois, as well as in states like Virginia and New Jersey that bear the brunt of urban criminality from nearby states or regions, with the result of an overflowing of penal institutions in many of the states that hold the largest cities:

 

335944383_shoud_Marijuana_be_legalized_40156182988_xlarge

 

The lopsided nature of the national choropleth conceals regional disparities in each state that result from a growing reliance on prisons to solve social problems or disputes of criminality or criminalized acts.  But both state and federal authorities in the United States habitually displace the site of prisons from those areas where prisoners or their families dwell, and indeed to build prisons at sites geographically removed from where prisoners once dwelled.  And census figures of prison populations show some disquieting imbalances in the equilibria of prison populations. One can see a markedly increased density of incarcerated African Americans in the country’s penitential system–often removed from the cities in which the prisoners originally dwelled, to be sure.  With 1 in 33 black men in jail, the effects on families across the country is unthinkably severe, if not statistics that threaten to unravel the fabric of our civil society.

 

Z6co4d

 

One can even detect in census figures a clear pattern of “forced migration” of African Americans to site of new prisons in one decade, a change presented on Prisoners of the Census but not reported in most news agencies:

 

black_per_change

A strikingly similar change in the social composition of counties that the incarceration of Latinos has created offers a similar displacement of incarcerated from their families, friends, and children–or parents, based entirely upon the construction of new correctional facilities:

 

Z6co5d.jpg

What are the effects of this new populace of prisoners, and how much have national authorities taken time to consider the consequences of the real stresses on our society that result from it? One result is increasingly to divide the country, or create increasing blind alleys of bleak social narratives in select pockets of the country, which our system of imprisonment effectively marginalized from public view.

The distributions in each state of incarcerated populations are clearly concentrated in urban environments, where prison sentences seem a regular recourse of local authorities.  There is a considerable clustering in specific regions in the south lands, both of those sent to form part of prison populations and parolees, if one looks at California, whose south lands seem to show a congregation of incarceration, as well as parolees.  One can only wonder about the unique topographies created by the extreme density of parolees in specific areas–often around cities such as Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Diego–but extending into the interior and Imperial Valley.  What sort of discussions does the clustering of returning folks on parole create within such cities and areas?  What makes a spot a likely one to which parolees want to return, and to meet family members from whom they were separated from one another?  What makes such separation ethically justified?   5.  Of course, the effects of the system of incarceration on local communities are widely different, if only because widespread practices of widespread incarceration are designed to marginalize communities from the nation as a whole. The concentration of prisoner re-entry into civil society in the regions around Los Angeles and pockets across the state is striking, revealing the potential proportion of prisoners and the health-risks they pose in specific areas of the state–Kern, Alameda, Los Angeles and San Diego accounting for almost half of the total number of parolees in the state.

 

parolee concentration statewide CA RAND Corporation (RAND Researcher Lois Davis)

 

An even finer lens might be directed to the distributions of those formerly incarcerated in precise urban neighborhoods, and an outsized spending in specific neighborhoods from which a predominance of men and boys are incarcerated at considerable expense.  The finely grained studies of New York City’s incarcerated provided an opportunity for the microscopic examination of the provenance of the incarcerated, and raises eyebrows of empathy about the communities from which they arrive in jails. One could go much further, of course, to delineate the disproportionate nature of urban incarceration. The staggering studies of Eric Cadora and others show the disproportionate cordoning off of specific urban populations in prison cells, and to muse on the map as an illustration of social costs of imprisonment.  Caldera and his team have tried to correlate the costs of imprisonment with city blocks to show the way that our expenditures on prison in 2003 correlated with specific neighborhoods in Brooklyn, NY, that cast a clearer light on the distribution of imprisonment in our society.

 

Mapping Prison Expenditures in Brooklyn NY--Eric Cadora 2004

Caldera’s aim is of course not to identify a topography of centers of criminality, so much as the lopsided nature of cultures of incarceration that become the new normal in specific areas and to specific courts.  The costs to society, of course, are often extreme, given the huge costs not only to specific boroughs, but to specific regions of those boroughs.

 

Mapping PRison Expenditures by Incarcerated

Those areas whose residents “send” young men to prison are strikingly concentrated in just one poorer area or zone of each borough, suggesting the deeply lopsided topography of New York’s social fabric, as well as the deeply rooted cultures of incarceration where specific neighborhoods are, in essence, incarcerated, both disrupting families and making orange the new normal and incarceration a fact of daily life.

 

17% --> 50% male prison population

Disrupted families are a deep national cost that is impossible to calculate, and with which social services can’t hope  to keep up.

 

Children of Incarcerated parents

 

This omits those regions which palm the fees for social disturbances caused by teens onto their parents, as if to abdicate the social responsibility of the state over the underage.  After kids are taken off to prison, the state does not even offer to foot the bill, suggesting the abdication of the moral, ethical, and individual consequences that a stay in the slammer might create or only intensify.  The decision to abdicate responsibility for such teens–to reverse charges on the families from which they have come–seems the most ethically unjustifiable position of all:  isn’t this a lawsuit waiting to happen?  While parents are free to negotiate a new rate for the costs of investigations, criminal justice fees, incarceration, and even for wearing of an electronic bracelet that places the offender on GPS, accumulated criminal justice fees can allow court officials to garnish parents’ wages, claim tax refunds their parents are owed, or place liens on the parents’ property to secure fees.  The Assistant District Attorney of Alameda County explains:  “That’s part of being a parent; you’re responsible for your kids and their actions.” God bless San Francisco County?

 

COUNTY-CALI_03-890x1024

 

Can one really place the financial blame on the families, in an age of the widespread de-funding and decline of graduation rates in public schools?  The picture of those likely to face incarceration who are high-school dropouts are startling.

 

incarceration-and-education-ad

Leave a comment

Filed under Eric Cadora, mapping incarcerated Americans, Mapping Juvenile Imprisonment, mapping prison construction, Orange is the New Black, Paul Rucker, Tuskegee Institute, William J. Stunz

Our Globalized Maps of Ocean Temperatures

Classical Ptolemaic world maps–or the detailed terrestrial world projections that associated with Mercator and Ortelius–were based on a need to find a solution to how to transfer the curved surface of the world to a flat surface.  When we are talking about global events–from warming to El Niño–we need to synthesize global variations in a spectrum of a set of surface temperatures that only a satellite can assemble, and to read them as inscribed on a global surface.  The virtual image of weather changes depend on information  removed from actual landscape, or inhabited land–but rests on the persuasive power of a compelling image of the earth’s curved surface in the synthesis of a coherent image of global waters over a continuous terrestrial expanse.

Is this map more powerful because it recalls a familiar globe, and because it promises to mediate  record of the oceanic equator that would be otherwise totally unable to be visualized in a coherent visual form?  The global visualization creates a compelling record to understand the odd embodiment of a shifting pattern of climate prediction, even if the synthesis lacks reference to a cartographical model or a set of scribal practices.  The map provides a way of detecting (and indeed predicting) unusually warm ocean temperatures that create El Niño, in ways that trace the preconditions to create a cascade of climactic changes provoked ocean surface topography through a visual syntax akin to a weather map:  the virtual globe deploys digital media to map movement across and motion through oceans, tracing shifts in subsurface ocean temperatures over space that would be otherwise concealed from sight:  the silhouettes of  the continental masses not only displace attention from the land, but subordinate land weather patterns to the irregularities changes in atmospheric pressure and sea temperatures that they foreground.

 

c741ddf1-2744-480c-b71d-efa07fc6aff0-460x276

 

The satellite thermal map of the swelling of seawater around the equator, generated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, tracks the temperatures beneath the swelling of oceanic waters to forecast El Niño oscillations this summer and fall.  By tracking significant sea surface temperature anomalies, they trace changes to gauge the possibilities of potential future major weather disruption of the globe, and to try to comprehend the shifts in temperature that might change weather systems in so drastic a way to impact food chains, agricultural economies, and climactic experiences in similarly out of the ordinary ways, exposing the otherwise hidden shifts in ocean temperatures by catchy chromatic spectrum of colors around the equator.

 

Jet Streams

 

Rather than only trace migrations, the map marks pronounced sea surface temperature rise across the Pacific is suggested by the surface’s deep crimson reds, extending from the islands off Singapore.  The Google Earth satellite view contrast to the arboreal distribution of the topography more evident, as if to embody the threat that it poses to the landmasses that are the usual focus of world atlases.

 

latest_sst.jpg   SST Anomalies

 

The spread of warm waters across the Pacific indicated in such maps echo the famous charting of sea-temperature anomalies of 1997-98 El Niño, which La Niña followed, when the end of trade winds led warm waters to slosh Eastward, pushing cooler water down from the surface, and interrupting the feeding habitats of fish and aquatic environments and interrupting the local marine food web.  The map traces shifts in surface temperatures by tracking of anomalies in the below video to suggest an advancing augmenting of surface temperatures across the equatorial Pacific.

http://earthguide.ucsd.edu/images/enso/swf/sst_97-98.html

The anomaly of equatorial sea-temperatures across the Pacific is most easily pictured by mapping the greatest warmth in red:  the visualization of global variations across the ocean surface suggests sustained pattens of temperature rise, mapping not only temperatures but their divergence the form the median, and tracing patterns in their variability over time–far more meaningful in the global ecosystem than the relations between surface temperatures tout court.

The result is a new globalist map, tracking not countries and border lines or borderlands, but that “other ecumenic” of oceans and ocean life:

anomnight.current

 

At least the hope is to start to direct attention to it, and to an area of the world’s temperatures that are not often mapped.  The above visualization rests on an ability to synthesize a coherent constellation of multiple factors–prepared in a cogently digested form–but proves a guide to local imbalances and deviations, in the hope that we can grasp the global impact of these increases in the collective image that results, offering considering subtlety to register local shifts across space that help reveal the whirls, eddies, flows and sloshes across the ocean seas, even if it might require far more learning to interpret in its consequences than the more familiar sorts of weather maps that we are used to access on line.  While not a globe or a sphere that earlier globe-makers might recognize, the elegantly articulated silhouetted continents suggest contre-jour qualities of the map, as if demanding that we start to try to pay attention to the deeper temperature changes in the seas that will reveal how shifts in atmospheric pressure create temperature shifts that will lead to a redistribution of nutrients in the ocean created by the consequent shift in upwelling and alter rainfall patterns worldwide or create droughts or typhoons as the result of an unusual warming of waters just below the ocean’s surface.

The dazzling image of the surrounding medium that conditions and prepares the climactic variations of the unmapped land to which they are so deeply linked, create an image of a global weather system we are only slightly prepared to come to understand.  The map’s comprehensive coverage of ocean temperatures is a shocker of a visualization, employing a rainbow of gradations of color to striking effect that combines both the exactitude of pinpoint images and the tools of digital visualization.  It is a sort of learning experience or primer on the immensity of global climate change, creating several deeply intractable pockets of climate change all closely located offshore, scarily noting the surprising relative proximity of the warmest areas to those regions, shown in white, which designate the remaining regions of polar ice, at the same time as the change in temperature seems embodied at an odd remove from the viewer or the surrounding shores.  Similarly generated maps created from remote sensing constitute some of the greatest emblems of the environmental disasters of our time.  Other options used by NOAA to chart the swell in temperatures in the upper 300 meters of the Pacific ocean in 2014 track a growing swell of something like an oceanic monster that grows in swells beneath its surface, evoking something of a large-scale sea monster that gradually began to reach across the Pacific toward the shores of South America, against the easterly winds that usually send surface water west across the Pacific.

The progress of waters beneath the ocean’s surface seem to track an animated entity in this set of subsurface charts, which capture the progress of the slosh of water magnifying the subsurface temperatures across the Pacific out of actual proportions to increase the visibility of temperature changes that seem to flow as if they were submerged underwater biomorphic forms resembling monstrous worms:

 

Feb 19 slosh,jpgmid-February, 2014

 

Feb 19 slosh,jpg March 16 sloshmid-March, 2014   March 16 sloshmid-April, 2014

 

In  a Kelvin wave, pushing from the warm waters of Indonesia to South America, the slosh of ocean waters can prompt the cascade of atmospheric events.  The bounded parameters of the visualization are limited to the ocean, but are meant to provoke a similar imagining of the potential events that such a swell might trigger, and provided one of the first indications of a probability of possible climactic shifts over the months to come. Despite the specificity of readings that it can coherently synthesize, the chromatic blending of these measurements in a real ‘heat map’ of ocean temperatures create a false demarcation of categories, by removing the temperature changes from their effects in magnifying their deviation from the norm.  Mapping the ocean as a surface of travel or site of navigation has long challenged the categories of visualization employed in land maps, if only because of the fact that the notion of oceanic space challenged the categories that were developed to visualize surface topographies.

The synthesis of mapping temperatures at different depths track migrations of water in the medium of the ocean is perforce removed from the specificities of place transcribed and tried to be pinpointed in earlier engraved maps,  that tried to render legible the currents, routes, currents and eddies of the sea, or to record the variations in the underlying ocean floor.  The globalist maps of the ocean’s temperatures that result offer something more like an animated graphic, instead of an objective form, because they lack clear contour lines or fixity that were the basis by which so many earlier ocean maps tried to calibrate currents, negotiate sea-routes, track winds, or map the topography of the ocean’s floor.

The embodiment of the expanding biomorphic swell in subsurface temperatures, mapped as extending across the Pacific, renders the shift in temperature as gliding contra corrente. They offer a major change in the claims and abilities of totalistic mapping of the oceans, and in the attribution of embodied characteristics to the ocean–which emerges now, if in ways that seem metaphorically misleading, as somewhat organic, as if it were something of a separate living entity from the land, which almost gained its own context, rather than appearing as either a surface for viewing nautical travel–

 

North America with the Opposite CoastsRumsey Associates

 

–or the result of an array of bathymetric bearings of submarine topography by collating depth soundings taken on weighted lines.

 

SF Bay

 

Of course, the topic of the maps–global climate change–is itself removed from the precision to mapping nautical location to calibrate calculated routes, path, or place as marked by means of a line, and understand risks of nautical travel.  The maps not only reflect the transferral of maps from paper to the medium of the screen, but a search for visual formats of embodying temperatures that were often elusive in earlier charting traditions. As such, they suggest, in the rhetoric of uncovering hidden changes detected by satellite, an eery remove of oceanic changes from the viewer, hinting ominously and only by extension about the likely possibility of future risks of global climate change to which the world’s inhabitants are now subject.

Leave a comment

Filed under El Niño, global weather mapping, mapping abnormal sea temperatures, mapping global climate change, mapping ocean swells, NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, weather maps

Mapping the Inequities of the Anthropocene

The current change of global climate poses peculiar difficulties of mapping by placing ourselves as viewers outside of the momentous changes they describe.  For the notion of mapping the arrival of the Anthropocene–or the signs of the visible impact humans left on the environment raises questions of how a map can trace the footprint humans have left on the earth’s biosphere.  If the epochal definition of Anthropocene poses the implicit challenge to position oneself as a viewer outside the very processes in which one knowingly or unknowingly takes part, or indeed capture the consequences of a geological change in the biosphere to human life.  Recent “revisionist ecologists” or self-styled pragmatists have called for forging or discovering possible “Paths Toward a ‘Good’ Anthropocene,” as Andy Revkin discussed at his New York Times Dot Earth blog, which stresses not the ecological evils of a narrative of global pollution, but the potential that values determine necessarily tough choices, striking debate that has reverberated in the Twitterverse as a perilous promise or a necessary evil under the hashtag #Anthropocene.  The title of his talk is called “Paths to a ‘Good’ Anthropocene,” has struck a nerve as subverting the core beliefs of Environmentalism by tweaking it with the prefix New, under the banner of eco-pragmatism.  One part of the basis for such “eco-pragmatism” seems to be the tired nature of the narrative of environmental ecology–or rather, of the alarmist hue that, for Keith Kloor, has morphed over the years from talk of a plundered planet a sixth extinction, and a baked planet to characterizing a planet under severe ecological pressure from multiple directions.  The narrative of the anthropocene, an odd term adopted in common parlance, narrates less a disaster than a widespread constellation of impacts of the human on our notions of nature, of sexual reproduction and differentiation, of genetic transmission, and on the geological record or livability of the atmosphere.

Can maps help this debate, by charting a differentiated view of “impact” and its geographical differentiation and spatial distribution, or in other words tracking the anthropocene as much as seeking to mitigate its effects?

Can practices of mapping offer means to capture and conjure that constellation of changes, or tools visualize the momentous mechanisms of climatological change in which the human is folded into the environment–and economic activity inscribed in nature–that might most effectively communicate its arrival?  Can effects of the Anthropocene be tracked over space?  As Shakespeare imagined “his cheeke the map of daies out-worne” in Sonnet 68, as if the face were a map of temporal changes wrought by time,  so that “when beauty liv’d and dy’ed as flowers do now,/ Before these bastard signes of faire were borne,/ Or durst inhabite on a living brow,” the maps below of local levels of air pollution bear the scars of time and global capital. To track the disparities that mark the close of the Holocene is to trace the introduction of previously unforeseen limits on the expansion of human activities and indeed the sphere of human freedom.   While the entrance into the Anthropocene has been laid at the footstep of industrialized nations with considerable justification, rather than being understood only as a category of geological time, the odd currency of the geological term with a geography of the earth’s habitabilty.  

The difficulty–if not near-impossibility–of returning to a healthier presence of CO2 in our atmosphere “from [current levels] to at most 350 ppm” voiced by climatologist Dr. James Hansen–and the organization 350.org– might be less easily solved than they hope, and might even risk orienting discourse on the Anthropocene toward remediation and restoration of equilibria.  Indeed the hope for such a return to a level of safety from current levels surpassing 400 ppm are not only a huge change from early eighteenth-century levels of 275 ppm, may distract attention from the deeper consequences of the enmeshing of the human in the biosphere:  the deeper inequities of our globalized economy are revealed in a more variegated map of our entrance to the Anthropocene.   The disproportionate contribution of industrialized countries to carbon emissions create well-known ethical questions of the distribution of shared responsibility for a crisis in climate change given the unequal distribution of the anthropogenic origins of climate change, emblematized by the disparities in fossil fuel emissions worldwide–which most ominously ballooned from the mid-1960s to the present day.

 

Carbon Emissions

Despite the use of maps to localize disparities in fossil fuel emissions, map smog map smog or define localized ozone holes, no greater detail is available in maps than disparities in air quality.   As we struggle undertake to trace such disparities, it is especially striking web-based maps reveals deep discrepancies in how levels of pollution have constrained questions of habitability at local levels, already evident in the imbalances revealed in data taken from the World Health Organization of the variations in the distribution of local means of small particle matter less than 2.5 microns across the earth.

 

Global Particulate Matter 2:5 WHO

The challenge of translating changes in the biosphere to a static map is not easy.  Even visualizing the range of changes runs the risk of reducing or distracting the intensity of their impact.  Dipesh Chakrabarty has aptly observed how environmental change constitutes “as a geophysical force, [a situation where] we now wield a different kind of agency as well – one that takes us beyond the subject/object dichotomy, beyond all views that see the human as ontologically endowed beings, beyond questions of justice and human experience.” For the very reason that we are immersed in its changes, we are challenged to read the record of massive changes and shifts in global environment of the sort registered in a map. But the regional distributions of variations in that manmade environments have been recently readily synthesized on a Google Maps API to provide a scary spectrum of how we alter polluted air quality in real time:  the shifts in select areas of the world–even if these areas which release pollutants that of course disperse worldwide–reveal one image of the uneven distribution of our entrance into the era of the Anthropocene. And although the ethics surrounding the degree to which over-industrialized countries have over-contributed to the advancing of markers of the dawn of the Anthropocene–from global warming to increased CO2 emissions to ocean salinity–the spectrum of the local distribution of air pollutants demands to be read.  The coding of such pollutants in the AQI keys each region by its departure from acceptable levels of health–and indeed the departure from standards of the Holocene, based on different levels or parts per million of contaminants able to lodge in the lung.   legend with promos

 

If the dawn of the Anthropocene presents itself as a counter-discourse to a globalized economy, raising the multiple specters of the risks and dangers of unfettered economic development and growth, it reflects inescapable constraints on those very practices and presumption of human liberties:  for it articulates “biogeochemical processes which [not only clearly] imperil the human species’ life-support system; it is also the antithesis of a politico-ontological condition central to modernity: freedom,” as Ben Dibley has observed in his Seven Theses on the Anthopocene, and articulate the parameters or constraints in which human freedom must henceforth now be re-understood–constraints in which mechanisms of the market might be able to secure and to perpetuate livable conditions of an easily habitable space. The mapping of real-time concentrations of pollutants are snapshots of specific moments, rather than images of a geological “deep time” or defining a single tipping point of long-term ecological flows. But the discrepancies in global air pollution registered in a real-time air quality index map charts reported measurements of airborne pollutants in a Google Maps API to trace a shifting canvas of how we are currently engaged in the alteration of the environment. While misleading to some, in its claim that “Good” levels of pollution exist in many regions, the distribution raises stunning divisions in the levels of local atmospheric contamination based on air quality indices.   As of today, the map suggested particularly localized pockets of pollutants, with a surprisingly large number of sites marked red (Unhealthy; 151-200 AQI, as defined by AirNow) and violet (Very Unhealthy, 201-300 AQI), and three sites in Delhi, Finland, Austria, and Coyhaique, Chile viewed of Hazardous air quality levels of over 300, which qualifies for a health alert. This sort of mapping of the man-made environment, where discrepancies in air pollution can be readily registered, offers something of a map of anthropogenic effects.  Variations in pollutants offer blunt tools to trace the disparities of anthropogenic impact on the global atmosphere.   pokets of pollutants

 

As one scrolls across or zooms in to discern the different distribution of colored placards that dot the map’s familiarly and largely light green surface, one readily flags something like environmental divides across both large regions of the global atmosphere, as well as specific noticeable differences of place, no doubt relating to industry, and shifting standards that raise the question of whether entrance to the Anthropocene is indeed the other side of the coin of globalization, or how much local, regional, and indeed striking national differences persist in this mapping of inhaled air, clustering in individual countries’ different standards of emissions for industry or automobiles.

 

Mapping Air Divides

 

The cartographical labels in the above map tracking air-pollutants offers a new grounds for the label “Red China” by the density of its clustering of unhealthy levels of air pollution as of this May 22:

 

%22Red%22 China

 

Sites of industry divide and readily distinguish air quality dramatically worldwide and in North America, revealing the local impact of the human on the biosphere:

 

Lake Eirie pollutants in air around Lake Bad Air Belt in Georgia, May 21 3 pm

 

The largely “green” California, whose ocean rim encourages a high quality of air, even with its own well-known pockets of pollution in its Southlands:

 

California Green?  May 21, 3-18

 

Piled up green rectangles don’t all equally signify healthy air quality, one should again note, but the discrepancies from Los Angeles to Tijuana, Mexico are nice to place in relief.

 

Southern California Air

 

Given the increased amounts of small particulate matter of a radius of less than 2.5 microns in much of southern California, whose clickable feature reveal the somewhat overly bulky embedding of data in this world map–

 

PM 2.5

 

the proportion of this particularly pernicious pollutants to entering and lodging within human lungs can’t help but recall a current rash of uncontrolled fires searing southern California’s coastline this mid-May, themselves tied to the effects of human presence:

 

California Fires mid-May 2014

 

Such considerably broad variations in air quality force one to wander more broadly over the slippy map’s surface,  exploring ties, evoked in how Ben Dibley’s characterized the Anthropocene as newly emerging global apparatus folding global economic relations in the geographic that creates the “terrestrial infrastructure for global capital.” The arrival of an Anthropocene, Dibley clarifies, “signals a geological interval since the industrial revolution, where, through its activities, through its numbers, the human species has emerged as a geological force now altering the planet’s biosphere,” evident in the exponential growth of the human population and the arrival of new geographical strata of Anthropocene rock built to serve the needs of ever-expanding inhabitants:  concrete highways, sidewalks, parking lots, airports and landing strips, or Superfund sites of toxic waste or garbage patches and trash vortices, steel shopping centers, loading zones, or the earlier mines, garbage dumps, and railroad depots that collectively signify the remaking of the inhabited world, but whose totality comes to create parameters for future growth.  The changing global apparatus to the earth system in which the human is an agent appears the underside of a narrative of modernization, whose inescapable telos is not emancipation from natural forces or limits, but entrapment by them:  freedoms to pursue economic development become the primary threats to the support system enabling human life.  Despite difficulties in relying on Google Maps as a measure of the constraints on that freedom, the measure of atmospheric pollutants lift a corner on the increasingly circumscribed limits that actually curtail individual freedom. Its measurement is particularly compelling for what they suggest about how economic development tied to the project of modernity come to constrain the world’s continued inhabitation by human life–as the pernicious nature of the development of Abu Dhabi throws into relief.

 

Emirates and Abu Dhabi 5.21, 3-10

 

This sort of a map is predicated on the numbers on which it is based.  The variations in measurements of air quality are striking on the Canadian border, perhaps revealing different standards or sampling practices.

 

Lower Canada

 

Europe offers interesting variations in quality of healthy air, with most danger signs located in the UK and North Sea:

 

%22Europe%22 in Air Pollutedness   Ireland, North Sea and Germany may 21, 3 pm

Central Europe, thought a bear of industry and coal, seems both highly monitored and at the same time roughly comparable to England:

 

EU Air

 

But the pocket of air quality that is literally off the charts one day near to Ankara–999–raises questions about how relatively low readings are in cities quite nearby.

 

Ankara and Turkey, May 21 3-06 pm

To be sure, Anatolia can also, in other real-time maps, seem quite green on other days:

 

Anatolia can also be  so Green

 

Real-time air pollution seems egregiously under-reported in South Asia, however, despite real high readings in two concentrations that seem quite situated at first glance:

 

Southern Asia:india

But a slightly magnified scale reveals greater local detail in a polluted zone:

 

near Rajiv Gandhi Infotech Park

 

 

Even if the readings of unhealthy air quality around Pune and Mumbai, if concern for alarm, are not comparable to Ankara:

 

Near Mumbai   Pune--Very Unhealthy!

The accessibility of a full report of air quality of any place on a pop-up screen suggest a level of detail, to be sure, that this post does not do justice. But one is impelled to marvel at the stark inequities in the Anthropocene, both surprising and unjust, from Mexico City to Ankara or China:

 

Mexico City at continental divide   Ankara and Turkey, May 21 3-06 pm

The striking global inequalities of concentrations of air pollution that seem particulate endemic across China cannot, however, help but give pause for the hazardous concentrations of particulate matter that they indicate.

 

Chinese Cities

 

Despite a dangerously uniform measurement of particulate matter (AQI) verging on or surpassing 200, the concentration in Shanxi provide is particularly striking near its shore, and reaches an apex of 890 in Shangdong province, despite poor air quality of particular unhealthiness in the gulf:

 

Shanxi Province, pocketsin ports

 

The remarkably high levels of air pollutants along the Yellow River is particularly alarming and striking, since pockets of particulate matter of less than 10 microns, particularly dangerous to the respiratory system, approach hazardous levels in Shangdong (890), and even finer–and more dangerous–clusterings of much more dangerous particulate matter of diameter less than 2 microns, able to lodge more deeply in the lungs, reach hazardous levels in Bizhou.  Have the health risks been conceived?

 

Clusters in Binzhou   Binzhou

 

In the south of China, from Chengu to Hubei to Anhui provinces, one can trace a stream of red flags along rivers, and multiple regions of unhealthy air quality deep in the interior:

 

Chengdu to Hubei

 

The far better air quality in the Guangdong region, in sharp contrast, reveals concentrations of airborne pollutants outside of the port of Hong Kong.   Guangdong Province-outside Hong Kong

 

But what to make, on the eve of the accord between China and Russia on natural gas pipelines, of the apparent absence of limits on air pollutants in so very much of the PRC?

 

Mapping Air Divides

The commercial tie-in is rather obvious, and the map may be a marketing device for masks made to filter out particulate matter, in a wonderful example of cartographical product placement:
Facemasks

Leave a comment

Filed under 'Good' Anthrpocene, 350.org, Andy Revkin, anthropocene, Mapping Air Pollutants, Mapping Air Quality, mapping particulate matter

Mapping a Century of Rising Heat

RISING Temperatur esThe New YorkTimes

The color-saturated mapping of regional changes in temperature across the contiguous United States provided a commanding visual for the front page of the New York Times of May 6 to capture changes in the US climate:  placed on  conspicuously above the fold and standing alone, just below the headlines, the graphic served multiple functions in a strikingly effective way.  The weather map that was first released by the Obama White House elegantly and effectively served–in ways that words could not–to combine several narratives of climate change that synthesized  the findings of a recent committee of scientists on the wide-ranging effects of global warming.  This is an unprecedented victory of the map, the most effective single tool to describe the complex process of a veritable cascade of environmental shifts, by selectively focussing on a known variable of local warmth.   The orange and bright reds of the map arrest the eye in ways an article or headline could not, and effectively provoke a cascading set of side-effects and reactions to occur in readers’ minds that served to grasp the finality of warming’s consequences.  As one mind quickly moves off the map of stark changes of temperature to the effects of future droughts and increased aridity of soil, consequent crop-shortages, and subsiding ground-levels, imagining the marked depletion of cool air, streams and rivers that would dry, and an increasing dependence on energy to create artificially cool environments. 

Although it is static, the historical map suggests a spectral future forecast for the nation that dramatically moved from back pages to headline news.  It mirrored a roll-out of the announcement as part of a dialogue with weathercasters on television news programs in a gambit to engage the public in the question of climate change.  Indeed, the graphic mimicked the presentation of weather maps on TV, images of the national forecast that the Weather Channel has made all too familiar.  Even if the map documents changes of the previous century, it shares the iconic status of the sort of severe weather forecast that The Weather Channel has accustomed us to interpret and to see.  We’re now trained so often to interpret and to read similarly colorized  climatological forecasts to trace regional emergencies that the Times‘ map seemed to recuperate these conventions to make a polemic point not so much about the past–“US Climate Has Already Changed”–but about the possible futures that the map forebode.  For weather maps offer the most acceptable medium of future predictions, where they have currency as credible tools for short-term forecasting.

 

Thuderstorm Forecast

 

The range of information in the map that summarized a century of rapidly shifting local climate temperatures How could such a gamut of consequences be convincingly understood or presented other than in a map?  The visual immediately triggered multiple questions of effects on species, forests, farmlands, new sorts of vegetation, and shifting insect populations described in the article, which a reader some decades ago would be challenged to link.   The effectiveness with which the map implicitly summarized the ramifications of these potential changes, or provoked its readers to react to its orange and read heat-distributions, presented an ominous vision of the future, as well as the historical past of a century of warming weather that the headline announced.  As if with the ominous fatality with which science fiction authors like Arthur C. Clarke described the future of a world battered by asteroids, the map opened up a view on the consequences of environmental change in a future world, even if its headline announced an event firmly rooted in the past century, synthesizing as it did the findings of two periods in the past hundred years.

The finality with which the map released by John P. Holdren documented a change that had already occurred across the nation’s regions, but made it to every weather bureau and station across the country, as if to maximize the newfound familiarity of audiences to engage meteorological maps as a way of making its own polemic (and of course partly political) point of how drastically rising temperatures stand to redraw the familiarity of the world.  Extending far beyond earlier warnings  voiced by the UN, or the pronouncements of an Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change whose  report documented the melting of the ice-caps and collapse of sea ice in the arctic, the migration of many fish out of their habitats, and impending dangers of rising seas.  Perhaps these global images were too remote, or difficult to visualize.  The powerful invocation of the weathercaster seemed to give greater reality to the scary prognostic in the contiguous United States, and concretized the multiple threats of climate change in an image that confirms the changing nature of the ground beneath our feet.  Some may criticize the focus on the United States alone in an interconnected world, as if the isolation of our country’s climate somehow removed it from a global problem and dilemma, or placed undue emphasis on the effects of emissions on the climate in the US.  But the image of actual experiences spurs a call for reaction and response, and, in an echo of the tactics of the Obama administration, reveals the increased “cartographical literacy” in the reading and interpreting forecasts in persuasive national weather maps.  

Forecast and Warming

The emulation of the televised weather forecast is no doubt what makes the map appear so immediately effective.

The map of the entire country was in ways a counterpart to the images of November 2012, around the time of Hurricane Sandy, simply titled “What Could Disappear,” which asked viewers to imaging the shifting coastlines of rising seas, and pictured the coasts that rising ocean waters could redefine, submerging beneath the sea low-lying areas of what we consider habitable land–as well as flooding all of Galveston, TX and some 45% of Long Beach.

 

What Could be Lost The New York Times
 

But rather than engage with complex claims of climatological futurology, the front-page graphic was both at the same time historical in perspective and even more apocalyptic.  In announcing or intoning “US Climate Has Already Changed,” it reminded us of the consequences of rising temperatures at a historical remove that was still part of our present and an uneasy glimpse to the future we have mad, using tense whose finality foreclosed debate in quite incontrovertible ways.  The map’s comparison of temperatures over a century effectively resolved debates, separating the actual consequences of climate change on a familiar environment from debate about its mechanism and reminding us of its man-made origin, and untangling the dangers of the changes that it wrought from the cascading (if terrifying) mechanism of ocean levels rising, habitats altering, fish migrating, the extinction of species, and deaths of coral reefs.  The map was able to link itself to a multiplicity of lived experiences and actual fact, and conjure a scarier–precisely since undefined–picture of what was to come–an era of increasing heat.  (Its associations might almost be as apocalyptic as the hallucinatory surreal  dream from a 1959 episode from Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, “The Midnight Sun,” in which the earth exits its elliptical orbit and moves toward the sun, warming the nation so much as to induce crazed radio weathercasters to stray incoherently off script and panicked Americans to flee abandoned cities en masse to Canada in search of cooler climes.)

The particularly powerful graphic of the map of regional variations in rising temperatures was quite devastating in its depiction of how–despite some regional differences–none save rare pockets of settled land experienced anything approaching a decline in reported weather temperatures.  For those that did, mostly concentrated in the lower Mississippi basin, they experienced quite slight declines:  it presented an image of a continent on fire, almost about to be consumed by flames, burning from its edges, if, the accompanying article noted, increasingly soaked by torrential rains.

RISING TemperaturesThe New York Times

The  growth of areas already warmer on an average of some two degrees suggested an encroaching of scarlet red blotches across the land from all sides, particularly in southern California and Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, the northern eastern seaboard, and the Great Lakes, with Bob Dylan’s native Hibbing seeing the greatest temperature change of over a massive three degrees.  The map powerfully synthesized the effects of human-induced climate change in ways that are not only impossible to rebut, using findings of a national  committee that has been in existence for over a decade–but was by far the most effective among the various interactive graphics it released.  The simple synthesis in a four-color map of the contiguous US immediately showed rising temperatures in some of the more inhabited areas of the nation, from New Mexico to Southern California, to the New York-Washington corridor.

In selecting a map to represent the consequences of climate change that were detailed in the report, the images suggested less of an infographic than a sort of disease map of a climate that has gone off the tracks.  Even if it might be faulted from its insistence on removing the US from the world, and focussing on one place within a complex web, as well as flattening its findings in cartographical form, the image is powerfully links the land to a set of abstract changes we cannot fully comprehend, but whose effects we can perceive.  This is the stunning victory of the static map.

2 Comments

Filed under "Midnight Sun", Global Warming, Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, John P. Holdren, Rod Serling, The Weather Channel, weather maps, weathercasting

Windswept Lands

The ready availability of huge datasets offers multiple formats for modeling an increasingly dynamic relation to space. Indeed, the processing of remotely sensed data allows for frighteningly rapid condensation and synthesis of what can be called information within a single map.  The dynamic nature of wind maps renders an idealized perspective whose content asymptotically approaches a view that is almost entirely abstracted or removed from the inhabited world, based on the mathematical models for projecting and tracing the currents and intensity of wind over land:  indeed, in the marvelously idealized data-driven maps, wind currents create whirls of whorls over the lower forty-eight.  The website hint.fm uses real-time images of the inroads winds make across the territory of the United States, distinguishing gradations of gustiness by wisps of differing intensity to describe a space not only removed from the inhabited world, but whose elegant tracery enacts an aerial drama across in an artificially demarcated mapped space too vast to comprehend, but offers a sort of atmospheric ballet of the wind’s shifting directionality and intensity, as if traced by a multitude of individually situated geographically dispersed weather vanes oriented by the shifting winds.

Wind Map website image

If the image recalls something like a smoke-filled room, it is more of a wind-filled continent, where blowing winds cross borders, rivers, and plains in an image of the bounds of the contiguous forty-eight states.  The cartographers, or artists of technological visualization, Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg are dedicated to “work [that] explores the joys of revelation” and in converting local data to suggest natural currents that existed before highways carved the continent into itineraries–like the “blue roads” of rivers run across the land–but their constantly shifting trails mark a weirdly curved space in a situated perspective rarely able to have been captured before.  Even on a “mild day,” the winds give a sort of dramatic intensity to the organization of space oddly removed from the cartographer’s art, which is quite passive in the sense of offering a surface to be inscribed by the movement of the air, as wind curves around the nation’s great plains in currents of a recognizable patterns or flows that approximate stop-action photography.

 

wind_west_to_east

 

Looping Denver

 

Sure, there are specific moments of meteorological intensity when winds line up in a recognizable pattern–a tornado or hurricane–in ways that define a geographic focus of interest or attention, as in the vortex of Hurricane Isaac as it approached New Orleans,

 

wind_isaac_zoom

 

but all too often the dispersal of attention is the rule, as one watches the patterns that winds themselves generate.

This charting of currents is one of the most precious dreams of early map-makers:  to chart the very presence of winds across the land and sea, early symbolized by the rhumb lines that were so important for nautical navigation in early modern and medieval charts, where they communicated the basis of projecting travel across oceans otherwise rarely noted or known how to be represented in the surface of the map itself:  even the lines surfaces of the waves on which ships gently rock and sea monsters rear their heads is only a suggestion of the winds that run across their surface.

 

Olaus Magnus

 

The wind-map is abstracted from territoriality in a sense, as were the oceans:  its formal focus on the United States, derives from its synthesis of predictions of the National Digital Forecast DatabaseLaura Kurgan has suggested how much the big data of cartographical operations like Google Maps or Google Earth were not only enabled but indebted–and informed by–the declassification of satellite views during the Clinton administration, which created something of a boondoggle of available data for American mapping firms, if it also informed the very strategies of global surveillance that Google inherited:   the delicate wind-maps Viégas and Wattenberg conceived and coded suggest less of a governed land than a territory inhabited by air, in which the unfurling curling currents of wind estheticize the bounded nature of territory:  migrations of flows of air that course above the terrain, tracing inroads of whitespace into the blackened map of the lower forty-eight until, over a sufficient amount time, the entire region would be wiped white or erased by air currents, and present only where wind-velocity was nil, in an atmospheric vanishing act of a truly windswept land, where winds course across by crossing out space and inevitably white-washing inhabited lands.

 

Winds over US whitening out whitening #3

 

Drained Nation Whitening #6

In another sense, the wind maps register the messiness of local interaction, so absent from the idealized rendering of the map, even if that interaction and specificity lies above where human interaction occurs, and creates a network of a sort that is constantly reconfigured before our eyes as it is drawn and redrawn in trajectories with comet-like tails.

 

Modelling Wind Flows 12-58 EST-4

The modeling of wind gusts across the contiguous United States suggests a new sense of the spectatorship of the D3 map, although real-time of the map qualities maintain an illusion of an actual meteorological surveillance of the skies.  Just as we cannot watch the unfurling of wind-currents of different velocities over the space that is mapped, they define the dispersal of wind currents across space as if at a remove from actual habitation:  the fine lines that recall stop-action tracing of six levels of gustiness across the nation are extraneous to sites of habitation, because habitations are not what is being described, or included in the data that drives the map:  the conventions recall streets or waterways or rivers, but follow a set of mathematically modelled swirls and whorls that render air apparent over the land that we more usually map, in a view to currents far above the ground.  And yet the mesmerizing drama of modeling data of wind currents is so elegant and engaging that it is hard to stop watching: its ambitious organization charts a record of our world at a remove from the categories of mapping that we are more habituated to scan.  In a way, the windmap is the most elegantly estheticized of terrestrial or worldly maps, because it is also the most etherial.

 

USA Windswhirls May 1 12-58

What is the subject of the map is the flow of data that is so oddly anthropomorphic, casting the map as a hirsute surface and second skin, even as it describes the velocity of air currents above the land abstracted from any view of place?  Do the wind-currents create or seem to sculpt a sense of place in their whirls and eddies, giving a concrete palpability to the map’s surface that somehow runs against the flattened isotropic surface of a map?  Is it still a map, now that any sense of spatial indices are erased, and centers of habitation are dramatically reduced?  Or is it a screen?  One of the beauties of this projection is that as one zooms in to the ground, further cities appear in the map, providing the needed points of reference that would be too busy in the larger scale versions, where they would obscure the beauty and drama of the inroads made by the winds that circulate across the lands.

 

Shaggy USA

 

There is specific period eye that is attracted to the data visualization, familiar with reading data distributions rather than describing a topographic space in naturalistic terms of portrayal.  If the United States seems a shaggy dog, the most mesmerizing of D3 tricks in the book is to watch the ongoing expansion of wind currents across the Rocky Mountains, Desert, and California, from an imagined t-zero at which the calculations are assumed to begin, as winds begin to be inscribed, as if on an etch-a-sketch in reverse, and give contours and form to the blank black area that the first screen seems to map, suddenly giving it a texture that is specific to a date and time when the download of whether data began, until it gains something of a meteorological image of wind flows.

 

West Coast Winds 1

Califn Currents #3

Calif Currents #4

Calif Currents #5

Californai Currents #7

 

Is this sort of data visualization, as attractive as it is, a map?  The processing of the distribution of air currents is difficult to stop watching because of the elegance with which it makes us look at the winds that we notice but have such a hard time collectively grasping, and because of the currents, eddies, whirlpools and lines of different flow that the wind map increasingly reveals, so that it gains a coherence in itself that it initially lacked. The idea of mapping air is intensely appealing, because it acts, as a map, to make visible what is so easily overlooked or otherwise has no concrete identity by which to be grasped.  The parallel currents, if approximating a familiar natural appearance of a hirsute coat, are nonetheless quite conceptually difficult to envision in their relations to one another or totality.  The best reaction is one of wonder–wonder at being able to find a visual residue tracking the unrelated sensation of wind:  this is mapping, in a sense, as an exercise in synesthesia, where sight replaces the sensation of wind on skin.

There are elements of translating sense-based observations to a format of visual modelling in all maps, but the oddity of removing the array of wind-velocity from sense-peception of course seems odd because one rarely thinks of spatially locating winds with precision or fixity.  With closer examination of the trajectories of gustiness one notices, first, the odd pockets of calm across the land, oddly coincident with some cities, and probably not only because their buildings block the velocity or intensity of air flow, in what can appear like racing currents or overlain strands:

 

Pockets of Calm?

 

And then the country, as it is inevitably drawn by an invisible hand of the forces of the winds, cumulatively gains the contours that it originally lacked:

 

Modelling Wind Flows 12-59 ESTModelling 12-58 EST--3Modelling Wind Flows 12-58 EST-4

Leave a comment

Filed under comet-like tails, D3, Fernanda Viégas, Google Maps, hint.fm, map signs, Martin Wattenberg, National Digital Forecast Database, wind-maps