8/31/2012 12:24:10 PM
There has been no shortage of
map-based predictions of this year’s election, with all eyes on the 95-odd
tossup electors, especially the ones in Ohio
One of the more interesting takes has been the map center at PBS.org, which lets you compare
solid and swing states against demographic data (their Patchwork
Nation map series is also really worth checking out). But David Sparks, a
Duke political scientist, has a more fine-tuned approach. Almost all election maps,
he realized, were choropleth, meaning only differences between states or
counties could be shown. An isarthmic map, on the other hand, allows you to see
gradations and contours that don’t necessarily fall into concrete political
So Sparks created an isarthmic election
map—quite possibly the first of its kind—which lets us see the informal
political boundaries that simpler maps often miss. What’s more, he created a time-lapse
of presidential returns from 1920 to 2008, which gives us a dramatic portrait
of how our political landscape changed over much of the last century. You can see
it here, on Ecopolitology. What
stands out more than anything is just how solid the South has almost always been,
whether as staunch Dixiecrats before the Civil Rights Act, or as a reliable GOP
base since Nixon. It also illustrates the huge, long-term changes that
accompanied elections like 1932, 1960, and 1980—and of course 2008.
Wasn’t this in Russia? Yanko Tsvetkov’s amusing Mapping
Stereotypes project on Brain
Pickings explores the world through the unforgiving eyes of Russians,
Americans, and a few others. You can check out the rest on
Tsvetkov’s blog. One of the best is Asia
According to Americans, with Central Asia divided between “WTF-stan,” “Vietnam
2.0,” and “Borat.”
Maps have also been a big
part of this year’s climate change debate. NASA’s Arctic
melt imagery seems to be everywhere this summer, along with equally foreboding
graphics like this one from the
U.S. Drought Monitor. A little more optimistically, the National Renewable
Energy Laboratory has devised a series of maps showing the nation’s best
hotspots for renewables like wind, solar, and geothermal, available at Grist. The upshot seems to be that
Americans west of the Mississippi have the greatest potential to develop sustainable
energy, whether it’s wind farms in the Great Plains, solar in the Southwest, or
geothermal in the Mountain States.
And a little less
optimistically, the Center for Global
Development has mapped where the worst
effects of climate change are likely to strike, from severe weather to sea
level rise, to famine. The results are kind of what experts have been saying
for a while now: while the U.S.
may see more extreme weather, the biggest overall risks remain in the Global
South, especially sub-Saharan Africa. A key
challenge for Northern countries may be how to respond to humanitarian crises
and disasters that are likely to erupt in the Third World.
What if our maps are
wrong? In cities with a lot public transit, official maps of the subway or
train systems are almost
always distorted, says Smithsonian
Magazine. Usually that means making downtown way too big, which is what Chicago and San
Francisco do. But in some cities, like London and New
York, the errors go a step further, putting streets
in the wrong place and misplacing intersections. Broadway on Manhattan’s
Upper West Side, for instance, is completely
out of whack, says Smithsonian. OK,
so how much does it all matter? Apparently a lot. Distorted maps influence people’s
commutes and rides, and might even get them lost. So much for efficiency.
Image by Kieran Lynam,
licensed under Creative
8/24/2012 4:50:34 PM
Our weekly guide to what you may have missed.
It’s an unfortunate fact
that many Global South countries depend on fossil fuels for economic survival.
has found an innovative
solution, says Audubon. The Quito government knows full well that its Ishpingo,
Tambococha, and Tiputini oilfields are worth billions, but the fields are also sitting
National Park. And the
Amazonian park has treasures of its own, including a full 20 percent of world
bird species and more tree varieties than all of North
America. So, President Correa has proposed a bargain: if the rest
of the world can pony up a (small) percentage of the oilfields’ lost revenue by
2024, they won’t drill. The proposal may add up to blackmail, but major players
are already heavily involved, including the German government and the UN. The
upshot could be a protected forest and an empowered Third
architecture: from the “setback” New York office building to the
“crumbling” Bangkok high-rise, Koolhaas’ largely unbuilt designs disrupt
expectations and lend common forms a shade of irony, says Smithsonian Magazine. There’s even an occasional anti-corporate
message. One proposal for
a Paris office block includes a single floor jutting away from rest of the
tower, complete with subversive billboard signs such as ne jamais travailler, or “never work.”
It’s not easy to catch
some civil discourse these days, but it’s still out there. Check out Treehugger’s list of “26 Things
We Can All Agree On” (with pictures!), mostly having to do with the
environmental crisis. It’s a lot of no-brainers—“Every kid should have the
opportunity to climb a tree,” “Tap water shouldn’t catch on fire”—but that’s
the point. The sooner we realize most of us see eye to eye on things like,
“Kids need healthy food,” the better.
President Obama may be ahead
in national polls, but that doesn’t change the Democrats’ deeper
demography problems, says Jack Metzger in Working Class Perspectives. Like most Democrats, Obama did very
well among minorities and women in 2008, winning the nonwhite vote by a full 60
percentage points. But also like previous elections, 2012 will likely come down
to working class whites—and probably males. In that group, the Dems have a
lousy record. Such a crude classification of American society is unfortunate,
says Metzger, but the fact is that if the Republicans can edge out just 5
percent of the white working class from 2008, Romney’s headed for the White
House. And in 2008, those white working class voters made up a majority in
battleground states like Ohio and Iowa. The solution? The
Democrats need to stop thinking in stereotypes, Metzger argues, and maybe—just
maybe—stop calling everyone “middle class.”
Not to mention the fact
that the middle class itself is changing faster than pollsters seem to realize.
Should the Democrats venture far beyond Charlotte’s
Bank of America Stadium during the DNC next month, they might catch a glimpse
of what local photographer Nancy Pierce has recently documented. There, once-booming
exurbs have been transformed
into ghost towns, says Streetsblog’s
Angie Smith. We’ve known about exurban decline for a while now, Smith adds, but
Pierce’s photography is still a powerful and surreal portrait of decay—and
naturally poignant as the city plans to soon host the biggest political shindig
of the year.
And don’t miss Democracy Now’s moving
remembrance of Howard Zinn, who died two years ago at the age of 87. Zinn
would have been 90 today, and to celebrate his birthday Democracy Now has posted a 2009 interview in which Zinn discussed
honesty, history, and the power of ordinary people. And of course his message of
standing up to injustice and falsehood is resonant as ever.
A periander metalmark butterfly in Ecuador’s Yasuní National
Park. Image by Geoff Gallice,
licensed under Creative
8/17/2012 4:42:36 PM
Our weekly guide to what you may have missed.
“A science fiction fantasy from
the sixties with a view to the sea.” We tend to forget about the Olympics once
they’re over, but the games often leave behind quite a lot. In a series of
vignettes in Granta, writers living
in Beijing, Athens, and elsewhere recall the changes the
Olympics brought to their
communities, and what remains of the spectacle. “I happen to live in the
Olympic neighborhood, built twenty years ago for the games,” says Santiago
Roncagliolo, from Barcelona.
“This is the point where past meets present, and you wonder which is the real
one. I still have no answer.”
And check out this Sociological
Images post on “the
life of Olympic infrastructure once all the spectators pack up and go home,”
from John Pack and Gary Hustwit’s Olympic City Project.
One thing that’s clear about post-Olympic London, however: “the gloves come
off,” says Dave Zirin in Edge of
Sports (thanks, ZNet). International
spectacle could hardly distract many Londoners from a crumbling economy, harsh
austerity, and a blossoming national security state, and London politics are
about to get messy. What will the city remember 20 years from now?
Video: The Center for Investigative
Journalism takes on industrial ag in The
Hidden Cost of Hamburgers, a new animated short (reposted by Civil Eats). Bottom line: beef
is a big rip-off. For every ounce of beef that’s made, a pound of
greenhouse gases are also produced. And that says nothing for other
externalized costs, like health risks, water pollution, and mistreatment of
workers, to name a few. Oh, and we’re addicted to it.
From Colossal: Recreating Van
Gogh masterpieces with colored newsprint and pieces of wood.
Climate change has been the forefront of a lot of people’s minds this
summer, along with a lot of very difficult questions about our role in
confronting crisis and adapting to change. But for Sarah Gilman, one of the
biggest questions is how to deal with a loss of this magnitude. Writing in High Country News, she wonders how we
“grasp the obliteration of so much we have
known and loved,” as we move very quickly from world to another entirely
different one. Reflecting on creative responses like Maya Lin’s “What
is missing” project, Gilman’s own answer points toward the future. “Looking forward, grieving for
what has been,” she says, “we must remember that loss is not new to the world,
and that loss is also possibility.”
President Obama may have put the kibosh on Keystone XL, but that didn’t
stop TransCanada from trying to make it happen in smaller pieces, especially in
the southern plains. But activists in Texas
have no intention of letting that happen, says Forrest Wilder in The Texas Observer. Construction on the
pipeline could begin very soon, which is why Tar
Sands Blockade got into gear on Thursday with “a sustained campaign of
civil disobedience” to block the project in East Texas.
Dozens of people have signed on, marking a new chapter in what Wilder calls “one of the biggest environmental fights of
The blockade in Texas makes a powerful
statement, says Bill McKibben in Think
Progress (via Grist), and
invokes the civil disobedience last year that eventually spurred action from Washington. What’s more,
the actions come at an appropriate time, as similar protests have erupted in
places like West Virginia, Montana,
and the Pacific Northwest over coal exports
and mining. The fight over Keystone XL united a lot of disparate groups of
people last year, says McKibben, and that can happen again.
Image by Kiko Alario Salom,
licensed under Creative
8/10/2012 4:52:20 PM
Remember back in 2009 when
Texas Gov. Rick Perry almost-but-not-quite
said his state should secede from the union? The small media blitz that
followed dramatically illustrated that even in the 21st century, the
South retains a good deal of its separateness, and its bad rap among
Northerners. After all, America’s
most populous region was the last holdout for slavery and segregation. And among many Northern liberals, the South’s
recent recasting as the low-wage, anti-union Sunbelt
hasn’t helped its standing. The solution? Let them
go, says writer Chuck Thompson, who’s written a tongue-in-cheek book
arguing for southern secession. The upshot, says Thompson in an interview with AlterNet, would be a mutual breakup,
hopefully without all the fuss of a civil war. Oh, and they can take Utah.
And speaking of culture
wars, what kind of sandwich defines you as a voter? In the wake of the
Chick-fil-A firestorm, it may come as no shock that restaurant preferences can
say quite a lot about a person’s politics. That’s the idea behind a graphic
posted on Sociological Images by
Gwen Sharp that charts customers at a handful of restaurants against their voting
behavior and political outlook. As with almost everything else in 21st
century, there’s a pretty clear partisan divide here. But what’s really interesting,
says Sharp, is what the results say about the class dimensions of voter
turnout: patrons at sit-down restaurants, whether liberal or conservative, were
in general much more likely to vote than fast food customers. It also points
out an irony of the Chick-fil-A controversy: while Chick-fil-A customers are in
general very conservative, they’re not among those most likely to vote. Whether
the restaurant’s recent politicization changes this, is hard to say.
“Quick, Henry, the Flit!” Long
before Horton the Elephant and Yertle the Turtle, Theodore Seuss Geisel made a
name for himself in advertising
and political cartoons, says Josh Jones at Open Culture. One of his most famous ads for Standard Oil’s Flit
insect repellant went about as viral as anything could in the 1930s, and Geisel
was soon called on to devote his artistic skill to the Allied war effort. Following
the war, and after recasting himself as Dr. Seuss, Geisel devoted himself to
somewhat more high minded themes and ideas. But these early works still retain
a kind of surreal Seuss magic, especially when you consider the context. Here’s a link
to some more.
Turns out dirty elections
go back a long way. In 1758, while running for the Virginia House of Burgesses,
George Washington buttered his voters up with free beer on election day. That’s
the first milestone on Mother Jones’
money timeline, beginning with the American colonies. But of course, it
only gets worse from there.
With or without a heat
wave, most Americans are probably not taking to the beach this summer. That
Americans have less vacation days than workers in most other rich countries is
no surprise, but it turns out most of us don’t even use the time we get. A
recent survey by Right Management found that American workers leave an average
vacation days unused each year, out of fear of being fired, says Kathy M.
Newman in Working Class Perspectives.
The survey also found that two thirds of American workers avoid taking lunch
breaks and many avoid taking sick days.
And many companies are
starting to take notice. But rather than provide better working conditions,
firms like McDonald’s and Applebee’s are tapping into worker fatigue in
advertisements, Newman says. In one recent ad for VisitLasVegas.com, a Norma
Rae-looking scene unfolds in which a woman in an office attempts to organize her
fellow office workers to, well, visit Las
Vegas. Whether the woman is later fired for taking her
vacation time is hard to say.
Image by eyeliam, licensed
8/3/2012 4:36:08 PM
Our online guide to what you may have missed this
The new transpo bill may be disappointing for
cyclists, but that doesn’t stop more and more people from getting interested in
biking. And increasingly, that
means universities and think tanks, says Pacific Standard. Ideas like bikeability and how cycling figures
into class distinctions are gaining a big following on campuses throughout the
country. North Carolina’s Lees-McGrae College
even offers a cycling minor.
And Congress also looks pretty
powerless to stop a new push for national bike routes led by nonprofits like
the Adventure Cycling Association. Currently, six
national routes are in the works across the lower 48, including—get
this—Route 66, all the way from Chicago
to LA, says Grist. The Great
American Bike Trip, as its known, is still very much in the planning stage, but
a nod last year from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation
Officials—comprised mostly of state DOT big wigs—was a big step forward. If all
goes according to plan, the road trip of the 21st century could look
The Baffler’s Thomas Frank asks, how vibrant is your
city? And, more to the point, who cares?
Redlining and blockbusting
may be long gone, but segregation
isn’t going anywhere, says the Pew Research
Center. A new study
finds that segregation based on income level has increased dramatically since
1980, especially in the Sunbelt and the
Adrien Brody does a mean
Salvador Dali in Woody Allen’s recent Midnight
in Paris, but Dali himself is no stranger to the big screen. In the late
1960s, the surrealist master appeared on not one, but three
French TV commercials for chocolate, wine, and yes, even Alka-Seltzer. Open Culture posted this video medley,
along with some fascinating background.
Oh, and here’s an equally bizarre
Dali appearance on What’s My Line in
A little good news on
climate from Treehugger: despite the
heat wave, US
energy production is generating its lowest
carbon emission levels since 1992. Reportedly, this year’s first quarter saw
an 8 percent drop from 2011.
Finally, how much do you
spend on entertainment? Sociological
Images reposted an interesting graphic comparing household
budgets between classes. Among the biggest differences between rich and
poor are how much goes to health insurance, food, and especially retirement.
More surprising were the constants: most people tend to put about the same
share of their income toward things like clothes, going out to eat, and even
education, regardless of how much they make. And as a general rule, working
class families tend to spend a much bigger pie slice on immediate necessities
like utilities and groceries.
And those differences are
growing. A new interactive feature from Demos
charts the demographics of
poverty in America,
and how they’ve changed since 1970. Nearly 50 million Americans today are below
the poverty line, and people of color, women, and young people disproportionately
Image by Prayitno,
licensed under Creative
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