Crockpot 08.31.12: Maps Edition

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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
and Florida.
One of the more interesting takes has been the map center at, which lets you compare
solid and swing states against demographic data
(their Patchwork
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
project on Brain
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
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
. 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

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