It’s rarely black and white

Taking statistics out of context to push a particular agenda is nothing new. But it’s nice to see a pushback.

Fixing the ‘impeach this’ map with a transition to a cartogram
As discussed previously, the “impeach this” map has some issues. Mainly, it equates land area to votes, which makes for a lot of visual attention to counties that are big even though not many people live in them. So, Karim Douïeb used a clever transition to change the bivariate map to a cartogram. Now you can have a dual view.

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We just need more of this kind of thing over here. For instance:

Show this chart to anyone who says Brexit is the ‘will of the British people’
This chart is not an entirely convincing argument against Leave or Remain, but it does illustrate that ‘the 52 per cent’ and ‘the 48 per cent’ actually constitute much smaller proportions of the UK population than the figure might imply.

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Nothing will change unless something changes

Such horrible news, again. Here’s The Onion, again.

‘No way to prevent this,’ says only nation where this regularly happens
DAYTON, OH—In the hours following a violent rampage in Ohio in which a lone attacker killed 10 individuals and injured 27 others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Sunday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place.

‘No way to prevent this,’ says only nation where this regularly happens
EL PASO, TX—In the hours following a violent rampage in Texas in which a lone attacker killed 20 individuals and injured 26 others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Sunday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place.

The ‘Recommended Stories’ section on each of those pages really drives the point home.

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It’s difficult for other countries to understand why this is still such an issue.

America’s mass shootings are a political choice
Empirically, the US is an outlier on gun violence because it is an outlier on gun access. Americans have easier access not just to guns, but specifically to military-designed semi-automatic weapons with large magazines that are able to murder with efficiency.

Getting rid of those weapons might not solve all the problems, but it’s a start, surely.

The tree rings of US immigration

Here’s an unusual way of representing population growth. Pedro M Cruz, from Northeastern University in Boston, takes two centuries of US census data and shows the increasing population as rings of a tree, one for each decade.

For a radical new perspective on immigration, picture the US as an ancient tree
According to Cruz, the tree metaphor ‘carries the idea that these marks in the past are immutable’ and it ‘embodies the concept that all cells contributed to the organism’s growth’. As with so many renderings of US history, indigenous populations are conspicuously absent from the tableau. Still, Cruz’s skilfully deployed data doubles as a resonant work of cultural commentary, offering a rich and often surprising look at the ever-evolving makeup of the country.

There’s more information on the video’s Vimeo page.

Simulated dendrochronology of U.S. immigration (1830-2015)
Trees in their natural setting have annual growth rings that reflect varying environmental conditions; the rings’ forms are neither perfect circles nor ellipses. The algorithm is inspired by this variation and accordingly deposits immigrant cells in specific directions depending on the geographic origin of the immigrant. Rings that are more skewed toward the country’s East, for example, show more immigration from Europe, while rings skewed South show more immigration from Latin America. With this, it is possible to observe the quantity of immigration through the thickness of the rings. The color of the cells corresponds to specific cultural-geographical regions.

Libraries of the past and the future

I’ve always thought of libraries as places that have existed forever, like cemeteries, or shoe shops — they’re just a necessary part of a normal society, right? (It’s thought the Library of Alexandria was founded as long ago as 285 BC, though its current incarnation is only 16 years old and closes at 4 pm today.)

But libraries haven’t always been around for everybody.

A history of the American public library
CityLab’s visual storyteller Ariel Aberg-Riger shares the story of how America’s public libraries came to be, and their uneven history of serving all who need them.

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That’s all a world away from the history of libraries over here, in our grand stately piles.

What was the real purpose of the English country house library?
In Mark Purcell’s all-encompassing study, The Country House Library, every aspect of this topic is researched and addressed on an epic, Girouardian scale. Whereas architectural and art historians are often uninterested in the actual books found in historic architect-designed libraries, Purcell argues it is impossible to separate them from a consideration of situation, appearance and design. Demolishing the commonplace belief that volumes were “bought by the yard”, he offers an opportunity for historians to think afresh about the way collections were read and valued within the elusive confines of the country house library.

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A gripping chapter covers the early 19th-century bibliomania that culminated in the great sale of the Third Duke of Roxburghe’s library in June 1812, described as a chivalric tournament between Earl Spencer, the Marquess of Blandford and the Sixth Duke of Devonshire. Purcell gives an excellent account of the arc of sales reflecting the decline in the fortunes of the landowning classes after the late 1880s. In 1966, Shane Leslie wrote in his memoirs, Long Shadows: “The empty shelves at Blenheim, Sledmere and Althorp gave me the ghastly gasp as coffins and vaults ravaged by body-snatchers.”

Here’s an idea of how to make more use of our present-day libraries.

How to be a library archive tourist
When I’m traveling and am at a loss for how to spend my time, I look up as many libraries I can in the area I’ll be traveling to, and I check to see if they have special collections. Then I make an appointment with the library to visit those special collections, and usually it means I get to spend a day in a quiet, climate-controlled room with cool old documents. It’s like a museum but with no people, and where you have to do all the work, which is honestly my idea of a perfect vacation.

But what of the future? As this high-tech university library shows (designed, coincidentally, by Snøhetta, the Norwegian architecture firm behind the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt), those old values of accessibility are still key.

A robot-filled, architectural marvel in North Carolina is the library of the future
Public libraries remain a critical public resource, but as budgets have been slashed and information digitized over the last several decades, many have been forced to adapt from book-storage rooms to high-tech public spaces. Indeed, libraries in urban areas remain an important space for those residents with limited incomes, education, and access to resources. By reimagining the relationship between information and technology and how humans interact with both, Hunt’s designers created a unique space in which the community can learn, create, or simply gather. …

“Whether or not you’re talking about a library focused on digital technology or on books or papyri, as the ancient libraries were, the most important thing is to make a library open and accessible,” he adds, noting that books weren’t invented until centuries after the first libraries came about. “[Libraries] had museums, they had lounges, they were interactive and in a very vibrant way,” he says, “more like libraries of the future.”

And yes, I know this is a bookshop and not a library, but you must check it out.

Mirrored Chinese bookstore offers readers a maze of discovery
The newest of China’s surreal mirrored bookstores is now open in Chongqing, offering a disorienting, Escher-like experience to all who enter. Designed by X+Living, the Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore leads visitors through an unassuming glass facade on the third floor of Zodi Plaza and into a reflective maze full of reading materials waiting to be discovered.

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Anyone else seeing Daleks there?

Elections everywhere

Polarisation seems to be the political theme, these days.

Socialists strengthen hold in Spain election
Spain’s Socialist Party strengthened its hold on the government on Sunday in the country’s third national election since 2015, with nearly complete results showing growing political polarization and party fragmentation. … An anti-immigration and ultranationalist party, Vox, won its first seats in Parliament, a major shift in a country that long appeared to be immune to the spread of far-right movements across Europe, in part because of the legacy of the Francisco Franco dictatorship.

This doesn’t sound good.

Benin’s government has shut the internet ahead of an election that has no opposition
The West African nation now joins the list of African states, including Sudan, DR Congo, and Egypt who have limited online access ahead of key elections, political referenda, or anti-government protests this year. Activists say the cut-offs usually have significant economic, political, and social costs, particularly given how popular messaging apps like WhatsApp are crucial for voters, journalists, and election observers.

Some places are getting it right, though.

It only takes India a month to set up a better election than the US
To be sure, the Indian election is a thing of wonder. Its scale alone is mind-boggling: More than a million polling stations, 900 million voters, nearly 2,300 parties. It is also an impressive work of democratic logistics that can teach a few lessons to the rest of the world, including countries with far more resources, like the US.

Meanwhile.

The French Ambassador is retiring today. Here’s what he really thinks about Washington.
Let’s look at the dogma of the previous period. For instance, free trade. It’s over. Trump is doing it in his own way. Brutal, a bit primitive, but in a sense he’s right. What he’s doing with China should have been done, maybe in a different way, but should have been done before. Trump has felt Americans’ fatigue, but [Barack] Obama also did. The role of the United States as a policeman of the world, it’s over. Obama started, Trump really pursued it. You saw it in Ukraine. You are seeing it every day in Syria. People here faint when you discuss NATO, but when he said, “Why should we defend Montenegro?,” it’s a genuine question. I know that people at Brookings or the Atlantic Council will faint again, but really yes, why, why should you?

 

Fancy going up in the world?

The Chrysler Building, the iconic art deco skyscraper in New York, is up for sale.

For sale: New York City’s second most famous skyscraper
The 77-story stainless steel-clad skyscraper, briefly the world’s tallest building after it was finished in 1930, is 90% owned by the Abu Dhabi Investment Council, a sovereign wealth fund, with developer Tishman Speyer owning the remainder. […]

The 1.26m sq ft building underwent a $100m renovation after Tishman acquired the property in 1997. Tishman later reduced its holding. The sovereign wealth fund paid $800m when it bought its stake in 2008.

$800,000,000 in 2008? Who knows what they’re asking for now. It’s an amazing building, though.

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Chrysler Building put up for sale
When the building was completed in 1930, it was the tallest building in the world, a title it held for about a year until the Empire State Building opened less than a mile away in midtown Manhattan. Today it is only the sixth tallest building in the city, and will drop down another notch later this year when a new office tower opens on the city’s west side. But it is still one of the city’s most recognizable buildings. It is famous for its triangle-shaped, vaulted windows worked into the stylized crown, along with its distinctive eagle gargoyles near the top.

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Chrysler building, the art deco masterpiece
A look at the famous building currently on sale.

The Guardian have also gathered together some wonderful images showing the development of New York from the turn of the century onwards.

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Rising high: the evolving skyline of New York City
Manhattan’s skyline is the most famous in the world. Its horizon has been interrupted by verticals from the first 10-storey office buildings in the late 1800s, and will only continue to rise higher.

A dark side

Stephen Shames’ best photograph: Robert Kennedy in his final days
There are clear parallels for me with what’s happening right now. Most 21 year olds are idealistic. Everyone grows up a patriot. You’re in school, you salute the flag, you read the sanitised history in your textbooks. Then there’s a polarising moment like this that shoves you into the real world.

In the US, beyond the election of Trump, which was a fluke, Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the supreme court is one such moment. Young people here having their eyes opened. They are realising there’s a dark side to the United States. Their idealism is being shaved away.

Maps for who we are, not just where we are

Here’s an interesting short documentary, via Aeon, on a project to make maps that bring an indigenous voice and perspective back to the land.

Native cartography: a bold mapmaking project that challenges Western notions of place
Maps have been used not only to encroach on Native Americans lands, but to diminish their cultures as well. With every Spanish, French or English placename that eclipses a Native one, a European narrative of place and space becomes further entrenched. In an effort to help reclaim his region for his people, Jim Enote, a Zuni farmer and the director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center in New Mexico, has organised a unique project intended to help bring indigenous narratives back to the land.

Counter Mapping

Maps remind us who we are, not just where we are. As he says in the documentary, “More lands have been lost to Native peoples probably through mapping than through physical conflict.”

Here are some other things I’ve found that show how important maps and names are. And if you’re wanting more idiosyncratic local history, there’s this from Atlas Obscura.

The cowboy cartographer who loved California
In final form, the maps are flamboyant and dense, giving an impression of near-limitless detail. “They’re almost like books,” says Hiller. “You look at a part of them and set it aside, and then come back the next day and look at a different part.” When he’s done exhibitions of Mora’s work, he adds, the maps in particular are “like magnets … People just get totally absorbed in looking at them.”

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No doubt another Trump bestseller

Another book’s coming out about Trump’s train-wreck presidency. Well, at least he’s good for book sales.

Bob Woodward’s new book reveals a ‘nervous breakdown’ of Trump’s presidency
The dramatic and previously untold scene is recounted in “Fear,” a forthcoming book by Bob Woodward that paints a harrowing portrait of the Trump presidency, based on in-depth interviews with administration officials and other principals. […]

Woodward depicts Trump’s anger and paranoia about the Russia inquiry as unrelenting, at times paralyzing the West Wing for entire days. Learning of the appointment of Mueller in May 2017, Trump groused, “Everybody’s trying to get me”— part of a venting period that shellshocked aides compared to Richard Nixon’s final days as president.

The author is the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, so it will be interesting to see how this compares to the more gossipy Fire and Fury, from earlier this year.

But let’s not get too carried away with any possible consequences just yet. This, from The Onion, sums things up nicely.

Trump disapproval rating reaches all-time none of this matters
Offering an overview of Americans’ opinions of the commander in chief’s job performance, a new poll released Friday indicated that President Trump’s disapproval rating had reached an all-time none of this matters. The report, released by who really cares which of the utterly useless polling firms and corroborated by several leading increasingly feckless news organizations, confirmed that well over half of those surveyed for really no goddamn reason. In addition, the poll found strong support for who gives a shit, it’s just a bunch of fucking numbers. … At press time, a new poll had found that President Trump’s disapproval rating was now at, Jesus Christ, a sizable portion of the country supports and has always supported an openly white supremacist president and the party he leads, and a bunch of goddamn numerical ratings aren’t going to do a fucking thing to change that.

Update 06/09/2018: On the back of the Washington Post’s launch of Bob Woodward’s book, the New York Times have published an anonymous editorial from a senior official in the Whitehouse that could be seen to corroborate it, reassuring us there are ‘adults in the room’.

I am part of the resistance inside the Trump Administration
I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

And the race is on to find out who wrote that.

Who is the Donald Trump staffer who penned the New York Times anonymous op-ed?
Within minutes of it being published online, text alerts were buzzing on phones across Washington DC, as insiders, outsiders, reporters, and everyone else tried to answer one question: Who was the anonymous author?

The English alternative to therapy?

An interesting view of us, our language and our politicians, from Rebecca Mead, of The New Yorker.

Jeremy Corbyn and the English fetishization of irony
In the London Review of Books personals, the wounding quality that is so often present in English irony is turned inward, to the point that self-loathing is so acute it becomes a form of self-love. (I may be ugly, but look how clever I am.) Often, though, the violence of irony is turned outward. The British playwright David Hare, in the notes to his play “Plenty,” writes that, when foreign actors ask him why a character behaves in a certain way, he believes it is sufficient to reply, “Because you are English.” Hare goes on, “Irony is central to English humor, and as a people we are cruel to each other, but quietly.” In this sense, Corbyn’s charge that some people “don’t understand English irony” participates in a ratcheting up of cruelty in the name of humor. The next step beyond hurting an individual or a group with a joke at their expense is to insist that their pain, far from being a justified response to verbal violence, is a symptom of deficiency on their part. The charge that a person lacks a sense of humor is a familiar bully’s tactic. Women in particular will recognize that the phrase “Can’t you take a joke?” is an expression of menace, not an invitation to share a laugh.

I’ve never thought of our self-confessed love of irony in such terms before. Our pride in our national sense of humour is no joking matter.

To be able to maintain an ironical approach to life means avoiding a more passionately committed or passionately expressive one. It means arming oneself in advance against the possibility of pain or disappointment, by building pain and disappointment into one’s emotional default. Irony is resignation in jester’s clothing.

Being British as well as American provides Rebecca with a great perspective on us all. Here’s another great and quite moving essay from her.

A new citizen decides to leave the tumult of Trump’s America
After decades in New York, I’ve made the wrenching choice to return to Britain. But England isn’t home.

Black holes on Earth

You wouldn’t think an exhibition of rejected photographs would be that inspiring. Think again.

Hole punched voids transform rejected photographs from the Great Depression
In an untitled photograph from 1937, a black disc surreally floats upon the subject’s face, obscuring the features hidden beneath the circular void. In another, a black circle hovers next to a tilted house, creating an eerie scene pulled straight from science fiction. At first glance, you might think a contemporary artist had altered the images, drawing jet-black voids as an intervention with photographs from rural Depression-era America. In reality, these images are discarded photographs from a bygone project that produced a pictorial record of American life between 1935-1944.

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Hundreds of thousands of photos were taken for the project and, necessarily, hundreds of thousands were rejected. One that has stood the test of time was Lange’s Migrant Mother from 1936.

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Stryker deployed a specific editing process where himself and his assistants would choose photographs they believed were true to the brief; the other images were rendered unsuitable and punctuated with a hole puncher. These ruthlessly “killed” photographs were left unpublishable. Today the found works appear to have black discs floating upon them, a visual mark of rejection which accidentally focus the viewer’s attention.

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More info on the gallery’s website.

Killed negatives: unseen images of 1930s America
Omitted from the story of this landmark documentary project is the ruthless method of editing Stryker deployed for the final selection. The negative of each rejected image was punctured with a hole puncher; if a print was made the image would feature a black disc, floating surreally over faces and landscapes.

Killed Negatives: Unseen Images of 1930s America

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What’s in a name? #3

I mentioned earlier, in a post about the first map to include the name America, that people should be more aware of the names of places used by the first people to live there. Well, here’s a map that can help with that.

Indigenous geographies overlap in this colorful online map
For centuries, indigenous peoples and their traditional territories have been purposefully left off maps by colonizers as part of a sustained campaign to delegitimize their existence and land claims. Interactive mapping website Native Land does the opposite, by stripping out country and state borders in order to highlight the complex patchwork of historic and present-day Indigenous territories, treaties, and languages that stretch across the United States, Canada, and beyond.

What’s in a name? #2

It looks strange now, but this Waldseemüller map from 1507 was cutting-edge in its day, incorporating the very latest reports from voyages of discovery that were taking place at the time. Not everyone agreed with the reports from a certain Amerigo Vespucci, however.

The epic story of the map that gave America its name
Contrarily, according to a letter dated 1504 from Vespucci to Duke Renè that was reprinted in Introduction to Cosmography and describes his four voyages from 1497 to 1504, he reached the mainland a year earlier than Columbus. Historians have called the authenticity of this letter into doubt, but Waldseemüller and Ringmann took Vespucci’s letter at face value, basing their naming of the new continent on its contents.

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You could say that every country has at least two names — an exonym and an endonym; what outsiders call a place, and what the people that actually live there call their place. They were arguing about the former without bothering to ask about the latter.

It’s a gorgeous map, though, regardless of its accuracy and arrogance. Here’s another remarkable map of America, this time of just one of its rivers.

This 11-Foot ‘ribbon map’ puts the whole Mississippi River in your pocket
It wasn’t just a marketing gimmick, though. By choosing this particular form, Coloney and Fairchild leaned into a particular depiction of the Mississippi that took shape during the Civil War. “There was this idea that because the river went from north to south, it was a great unifier for the country,” Luarca-Shoaf says—that it tied the divided North and South together like, well, a ribbon. At the same time, they took pains to include important battle sites, like Vicksburg. That these sites made it onto the map just a year after the war ended “shows that the war had marked the landscape in more than physical ways,” she says. “It had become part of the history of the place.”

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New alphabets, new words

I can’t imagine how difficult this must be to organise. Kazakhstan is changing its official alphabet — every written thing across all areas of life, work, education, commerce — from the Russian-based Cyrillic one to the Latin-based one of the West.

The cost of changing an entire country’s alphabet
That the Kazakh language is currently written in Cyrillic – and the persistent use of Russian in elite circles – is a legacy of the Soviet Union’s rule, one that some of its neighbouring countries sought to shed right after the union’s collapse in 1991. Azerbaijan, for example, started introducing textbooks in Latin script the next year, while Turkmenistan followed suit in 1993. Kazakhstan is making the transition almost three decades on, in a different economic environment that makes the costs hard to predict. …

So far, state media has reported that the government’s total budget for the seven-year transition – which has been divided into three stages – will amount to roughly 218 billion tenge ($664m). About 90% of that amount is going to education programmes the publication of textbooks for education programmes in the new Latin script, including for literature classes.

The government aims to complete the move by 2025. I’d love to revisit this story then, to see if they meet their deadline and budget.

I wonder if Kazakhstan’s new alphabet will be put to use with some of the new words this report discusses. A University of Birmingham researcher has analysed 900 million tweets from October 2013 to November 2014 from users in the USA, looking for terms that started off rare but became more popular.

Feeling litt? The five hotspots driving English forward
The result was a list of 54 terms, which covered everything from sex and relationships (such as “baeless” – a synonym for single), people’s appearance (“gainz” to describe the increased muscle mass from bulking up at the gym), and technology (“celfie” – an alternative spelling of selfie). Others reflected the infiltration of Japanese culture (such as “senpai”, which means teacher or master). They also described general feelings, like “litt” (or “litty” – which means impressive or good – or affirmations such as “yaaaas” (as an alternative to yes.) Interestingly, some of these terms such as “candids” (a noun describing photos taken without the other person’s knowledge) have been around for years, but were extremely rare until seeing a sudden rise in popularity.

Because the messages were timestamped and geocoded, he could track five geographic hubs that were driving these changes and additions to the language; West Coast, Deep South, North East, Mid-Atlantic and the Gulf Coast.

Gulf Coast  The third (and final) southern region to feature in Grieve’s analysis, this hub centred around New Orleans, extending across Louisiana and into eastern and coastal Texas and along the Mississippi to Memphis. One of the region’s most noteworthy contributions – idgt (I don’t get tired) – became a catchphrase of the rapper Kevin Gates, who grew up in Baton Rouge, the state capital of Louisiana, and released a single of the same name in 2014.

Notable terms: bruuh (bro’): idgt (I don’t get tired); lordt (Oh Lord!)