Why Democrats are Wrong

Interesting post by georgia10:

But on those issues which cut to the core of our democracy--on illegal wiretapping, signing statements, torture, etc.--Democrats in general have let us down. Whether it's being AWOL and letting faux "infighting" between Republicans define the debate, or whether it's failing to explain an issue properly to the American public so that we can get those poll numbers on our side, it's a sad fact that we have all but abandoned several issues of huge constitutional and social significance.
I agree. Where are Democrats on warrantless wiretaps? Surveillance of Americans? Why did so few align themselves with Russ Feingold earlier this year when he proposed censuring Bush for lying to Congress? Where were they this week when the administration succeeded in getting the right to torture? Why haven't they tried to widen the debate, and resisted the framing of Iraq as being part of the war on terror? (I don't mean Clinton, he's not in office.)

Being in the minority, what they used to call the "loyal opposition" means bringing an alternative view that you can lay out. It means, well, opposing the administration. It doesn't mean being weak and scared, it means speaking out and resisting.

What's so difficult about saying "I oppose torture"?

Clinton on Fox News

They're calling this the "Clinton smackdown." Whatever your opinions of Clinton (and personally, I think he squandered many opportunities and adopted too many neoliberal policies) it's interesting how effectively he deals with the questions thrown at him; many of them stemming from the misleading ABC program The Pathway to 9/11.

His replies are bold, even aggressive, and have certainly energized a lot of people (nearly 500 comments after the transcript). Poor old Chris Wallace!

Clinton's comments are a timely reminder of facts that are often conveniently forgotten or obscured by the current administration. For example, Clinton highlights Richard Clarke's book Against All Enemies, and its central charges that President Bush dropped the ball on terrorism prior to 9/11, and that after 9/11 Bush immediately diverted attention toward Iraq, even though there was no evidence of a connection to Al-Qaeda. Clarke was national security advisor for Bush when 9/11 occurred.

Clinton's appearance on a conservative tv channel is not likely to be often repeated, nor of course will it translate into equal representation on Sunday morning politics shows, nor aggressive questioning of administration officials. As a former president, Clinton can widen the debate, but don't forget that it is still extremely narrow.

For instance, the big news this week on the National Intelligence Estimate which concludes that the Iraq war has fueled terrorism (a story picked up around the world) directly contradicts the White House narrative. This is not some random finding; it was undertaken by the US's own intelligence agencies in April (16 of them). Presumably as Commander-in-Chief Bush is allowed to read this report, yet since April Bush has repeatedly claimed that things are going well and Al-Qaeda is being dismantled. He has not acknowledged the contradictory official findings of his own intelligence agencies. The Times observes that "Some intelligence officials have said the White House has consistently presented a more optimistic picture of the situation in Iraq than justified by intelligence reports from the field."

Yet the narrative is that we're doing fine, just stay the course, re-elect Republicans.

The Clinton interview, if it shows anything, shows how desperately we need to face up to reality on Iraq and terrorism. As Clinton said, read Clarke's book.


Screening for HIV

Yesterday's news that the CDC is recommending HIV screening for people aged between 13-64 tended to overlook one key factor: the false positive rate.

No test is perfect, and the more people you test, the more false positives it will generate. A false positive is when the test indicates you have an infection, when really you don't.

Yesterday's recommendation will exacerbate this because it recommends testing for low-risk groups, where true positives are presumably rare. The rate of false positives to true positives will therefore be higher in this group. This means many healthy people will be told they have HIV.

Where the base rate of infection is low (say 0.01% as it is for women), it could be the case that for every truly identified person with infection, there will be 50 times as many identified who don't have HIV:

Interestingly enough, this situation is analogous to warrantless wiretaps. These wiretaps are a form of "data mining" which listen to our phone calls to find terrorists. They too will turn up thousands if not millions of false positives, that is, false leads that have to be traced down and dealt with--perhaps by forcibly conducting people to other countries to be tortured, perhaps just by using time and resources to check each lead.

To see why, let's do the numbers (this is based on an example developed by John Allen Paulos, and the New England Journal of Medicine article from which the graph above was taken. I'm not a mathematician so I hope I've interpreted things correctly).

Let's say that the HIV test is 99.5% accurate. So people with HIV will be found 99.5% of the time. That's great, it's pretty sensitive. Let's say out of every 200 people tested 1 person without HIV will also show positive (false positive rate of 0.005).

We also need to know the prevalence of a disease. Well, HIV varies by risk group. The CDC is proposing to test the entire adult population. I don't know the prevalence of HIV (although it is low).

Let's see. There are an estimated 1 million people with HIV/AIDS in this country. There are about 200 million people aged 14-65. If we test this age group, we will find 995,000 of the people with HIV if it is 99.5% accurate. But for every million tested it will indicate 5,000 people have HIV who don't. In a population of 200 million that's 1 million false positives. Too many.

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine raised the issue of false positives as long ago as 1987:

Plans to test low-risk populations for HIV antibody generally ignore the possibility of false positive results. ... But before we establish a public policy of widespread screening, we should consider whether testing that is justified in the blood bank is also justified in other settings. If the false positive rate is not virtually zero, screening a population in which the prevalence of HIV is low will unavoidably stigmatize and frighten many healthy people.
Is a test rate of 99.5% realistic? If a positive result is obtained it is usual to carry out a second test. This can lower the false positive rate. But obviously even if it is cut to 100,000 or 10,000, we're still talking about huge numbers of people who will go through the worry and anxiety of being told they have HIV.


Wise words from the President on torture

Former Pres. Bill Clinton, that is.

Yes, the "big dog" himself was interviewed on NPR this morning.

I think it's interesting that whatever you think of his politics, he has the effect of widening the debate and showing that we have an extremely narrow range of perspectives in politics (and the media) today.

On torture for example, he pointed out that not only is it against American values, but that it doesn't actually work because people just tell you what they want to hear. Ultimately of course it also endangers Americans captured overseas who might be subject to the same kinds of torture that the Bush administration has favored.

Certainly a breath of fresh air in the current confused debate.

Map mashup on corrupt members of Congress

An interesting use of Google maps shows where the corrupt members of Congress come from.

The mashup was created by CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) on a new website. According to their website CREW acts in legal cases and seeks more open accountability through FOIA investigations.

The site, "Beyond Delay" has a list of the top 20 most corrupt members (17 Republicans and 3 Democrats). Both Senators and Representatives are included.

The map itself is pretty straightforward, but you can click on each tab and pull up the details on each person. For example, zooming to Montana gives us Sen. Conrad Burns (R). If you click on his tab, you can download a 9-page report where you can learn about his associations with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff (who has himself pleaded guilty to bribing public officials, including at least one member of Congress).

The most corrupt state? California, with 5 corrupt members in the top 20! (4 GOP, 1 Dem.). Hey Cali! What's going on?

The democratization of cartography

(Updated below)

Interesting blog from the University of Wisconsin-Madison observing that recent developments in cartography have brought about a "democratization" of the discipline.

Meaning, that map-making is gaining a populist appeal because its "powerful new tools" (they provide a link to Professor Mark Harrower's home page, shown above) allow more people to deal with spatial data.

What's interesting here is that this goes beyond just saying there are more map-making programs for everybody (map mashups and such). Harrower says that there are easy to use tools that help you deal with specific aspects of spatial data. The argument is that in the same way blogs have changed publishing, then these tools will change mapping. He mentions:

1. Data filtering (helps with the huge influx of spatial data out there)
2. Various design modules, eg ColorBrewer for choosing colors on the map
3. How to tackle dynamic change in your data
4. Generalizing data

All these tiny little tools do one thing. We're not talking ArcGIS here. Yes, they're all free. But I wonder if they can crack the attraction of getting one piece of software that does everything. At least that way you only have to remember one name and one way of doing things!

The potential of open-source mapping is high, but as yet unproven. I mean, some people don't even accept that blogs have changed anything (much less actually read them!).

Update. A similar article "New Directions in Mapmaking" in the Washington Times discusses the difference between traditional paper-based mapping and newer developments. It quotes a bunch of cartographers including Tanya Allison, professor and program coordinator of applied geography at Montgomery College in Rockville, Allen Carroll of the NGS, and John Hebert, chief of the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress.


US kidnaps foreign citizen, sends to Syria to be tortured

A Canadian panel has revealed that a Canadian citizen was abducted by the US while changing planes at JFK and sent to Syria where he was tortured and beaten with a metal cable.

The Canadian, who was held in a small cell in Syria for a year, has been exonerated. He was never charged or brought to trial. The report is scathing about the incident.

...its conclusions about a case that had emerged as one of the most infamous examples of rendition — the transfer of terrorism suspects to other nations for interrogation — draw new attention to the Bush administration’s handling of detainees. And it comes as the White House and Congress are contesting legislation that would set standards for the treatment and interrogation of prisoners.

“The American authorities who handled Mr. Arar’s case treated Mr. Arar in a most regrettable fashion,” Justice O’Connor wrote in a three-volume report, not all of which was made public. “They removed him to Syria against his wishes and in the face of his statements that he would be tortured if sent there. Moreover, they dealt with Canadian officials involved with Mr. Arar’s case in a less than forthcoming manner.”

As usual, the lawyer Glenn Greenwald has pertinent commentary. This case in well known in Canada, yet I can't recall it ever being discussed in the US.

Polls: 9/11 politics of fear fizzles

Apropos the previous entries analyzing the political exploitation of fear in this country, new polls indicate the public have rejected that argument after a brief 9/11 uptick.

The graph above is from the online betting site Tradesports, and shows the likelihood of the GOP retaining the House has resumed a months-long free-fall, with a closing price of just 50.6 (ie., there is a 50.6% chance of retaining the House). Tradesports correctly called the electoral votes in all 50 states in the last election, as well as 33 of 34 Senate races (source).

You can see this more clearly if we look at the trading for the last month which has almost all been below 50%:

Heavy trading starting 9/22 9/12 pushed it upwards but that has since fallen off.

(However, the Senate is currently trading at around an 80% chance of GOP retention as it has been all year. It will be interesting to see if there's a break in the odds there.)

And a bevy of polls, notably Rasmussen put Bush below where he was before 9/11. He now has a 0.71 favorability/unfavorability rating (anything below 1.0 indicates unfavored: 41% approve, 58% disapprove).

Rasmussen also moved three state Senate races out of the toss-up category into the Democratic column: Ohio, Rhode Island, and Montana. They now peg it as 49 GOP seats and 48 Dem. seats with just 3 in play.

If you believe in rejecting the politics of fear, these developments are good news. But there's still 7 weeks till election day!


Security Letters

How's this for some political analysis. Which country is referred to here:

There was no difficulty in obtaining the counter-signature, since the psychiatrists regarded themselves not so much as doctors--in the sense we understand it today--as civil servants concerned with public hygiene: that is, their job was to supervise whatever was in a state of disorder, whatever presented a danger. In the end it is this notion of "danger," which was introduced at that time, theorized in psychiatry and criminology...that you find again in Soviet legislation. This legislation may say: you're claiming that a patient is being put in prison (or a prisoner put in hospital), but that's not at all the case! Someone is being confined because he has been "dangerous." They even reached the point of describing as an offense in the penal code the fact of being perceived as dangerous...

We haven't reached that point here yet. But in the British, American, Italian, German and French practice of psychiatry and of penal law, we see that the notion of "danger" is still the guiding thread. And all these things--police, psychiatry--are institutions intended to react to danger.*
Emphasis in original. Actually it's the French writer Michel Foucault talking about 19th century France and something called "lettres de cachet" which people could write to get other people (eg., family members who were bugging them, or your enemies) put away in institutions.

I like the twist at the end. If you're perceived as dangerous you're breaking the law. And dangerousness is judged by what group you are deemed to be a member of. There is a keen relevancy of this political thinking in America today. Lettres de cachet were originally only issued by or on behalf of the king, the sovereign.

So what happened? Well instead of committing an offense against the sovereign, you were now deemed to commit it against society. The end of pure sovereignty meant its replacement by society, by a "people" living together and sharing in its benefits and disadvantages. It also meant a switch from trhe criminal as someone who has committed a crime, to a criminal as someone who has not committed a crime, but is risky. Modern society must be protected then, from, well, from risk and dangerous people, either as individuals or increasingly as members of certain risky groups (the mad, bad, deviant, abnormal). Risky groups threaten homeland security (security of the group's territory).

This meant the need for surveillance in order to monitor these potentially risky groups. Surveillance is therefore a necessary invention of the modern state. But whereas we get most bent out of shape by the thought of tracking individuals, the greater impact of the modern logic has been in surveillance of groups, populations, and races.

This is one explanation for the development and persistance of racism, anti-immigration legislation and speech, the incursion of security procedures into everyday life, the politics of fear, and of course warrantless wiretaps and other mass surveillance.

*From the book Politics, Philosophy, Culture, p.188.

(See previous entry).

Immigration raids

As a resident of Georgia, the following Associated Press (AP) story hits close to home and captures the competing feelings we have about immigration, small towns, low salaries, and employment.


STILLMORE, Ga. (Sept. 15) - Trailer parks lie abandoned. The poultry plant is scrambling to replace more than half its workforce. Business has dried up at stores where Mexican laborers once lined up to buy food, beer and cigarettes just weeks ago.

This Georgia community of about 1,000 people has become little more than a ghost town since Sept. 1, when federal agents began rounding up illegal immigrants.

The sweep has had the unintended effect of underscoring just how vital the illegal immigrants were to the local economy.

Here is a photo they provide that cites the "12 million" illegal immigrants figure that has already been questioned by John Allen Paulos (because it's based on a dubious claim that 3 million additional illegals enter this country every year).

Click for larger picture

One of the comments that struck me is how the local community, despite being Republican, recognized the contribution of the workers:

The B&S convenience store, owned by Keith and Regan Slater, the mayor's son and grandson, has lost about 80 percent of its business.

"These people come over here to make a better way of life, not to blow us up," complained Keith Slater, who keeps a portrait of Ronald Reagan on the wall. "I'm a die-hard Republican, but I think we missed the boat with this one."

The other issue, quite frankly, is the appalling low wages offered by the main local employer, a chicken canning factory. They pay $6.75 an hour, while a local Wal-Mart (exercising its typical monopoly practices) pays only $5.60 (barely above minimum wage). Many of the commentators on this story repeat the charge that immigrants drive down wages.

Georgia's response? Increase anti-immigration leglislation in the Republican-controlled state government. Increase the difficulty of voter ID.

Here's an interesting perspective putting it into a more global context, a talk by Dr. Marcelo Suárez-Orozco of New York University:

One of the biggest issues that arises in the immigration debate is that immigrants are bad for the economy because they drive down wages, but Suarez-Orozco said that economist have found that, “The cities that have done best, in terms of wages, are the cities that have had large flows of new arrivals. The cities that have done the worst in terms of wages are the cities that don’t have immigrants.”

It’s a problem of supply and demand, the professor contended, because if the U.S. economy demands it the laborers will come, whether through legal or illegal means.
This view is close to the structuralist view I discussed in an earlier post, regarding neoliberalism. Whether Suárez-Orozco operateds within the neoliberalist philosophy or critiques it I can't say from this article.


New device lets drivers communicate wirelessly between cars

Unintended consequences dept:

Japan is user-testing a new device that lets drivers send messages wirelessly to other cars. This doesn't appear to be the "geddout of my way you idiot!" kind of message though, but using GPS and in-car navigation systems to let you know a car or hazard is coming up nearby.

This apparently is thought to be a good idea in Japan because half of all cars there have GPS, compared to 10% in the USA & Europe.

I see this hasn't prevented the driving masses from suggesting their own, well, rude things they've apparently been waiting to say to other drivers!!

Muslim candidate asked if he "associates with terrorists"


A candidate for Congress who is an African-American Muslim was asked if he "associates with terrorists" in a debate with his opponent.

Keith Ellison won the Democratic primary (DFL) this week in a safe Dem. seat and would be the first Muslim in Congress. His opponent, Alan Fine, has unleashed a barrage of attacks saying that he (Fine) is "offended as a Jew" by Ellison, and putting it about that Ellison associates with terrorists.

Apparently just a few weeks ago Fine was reasonable enough to get the respect of local journalist Doug Grow, but now Grow says that Fine has "lost any claim to moderation, thoughtfulness or originality" (a reference to the fact that Fine might be parroting GOP talking points).

Whoever is responsible for these statements, it is sad to see them reproduce stereotypes and ethnic/religious profiles. This is not an isolated comment or slip of the tongue from Fine. In general if a candidate does say something racial or offensive, look if there is a pattern of such remarks or behavior. If not, take it with a pinch of salt. But with repeated, extremist comments, as in this case, well, the game is up.

A related issue this week comes from the comments made by the Pope. Although the Pope seemed to imply that Islam has spread itself through violence, he has since issued a semi-apology:

"The Holy Father is very sorry that some passages of his speech may have sounded offensive to the sensibilities of Muslim believers," Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said in a statement."
But the larger issue is that Catholicism has very favorable official doctrine on Islam from Vatican II, as Juan Cole points out. Cole quotes the following:
The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth (5), who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes great pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgement when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this Sacred Synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.
These are fine "catholic" sentiments. The BBC website provides a clue that this Pope is very much against violence in religion. And that's fine. But sometimes you have to clearly recognize (and state) that few religions can historically claim to be free of violence. That being said isn't it better to decry all violence, as well as not incidentally to recognize that violence comes in many forms (including economic violence, which kills just as assuredly).

On the other hand, people like Fine (or, as Minnesotans suspect, Karl Rove) are doing the opposite and are stirring hatreds for political reasons. They can only deserve our condemnation.


Culture of corruption dept.

Who said this about which Senator:

"[T]he congressman is more confident than ever that he will be vindicated in this matter. . . . the congressman will not under any circumstances plead guilty to a crime he did not commit"...

"Congressman X has said from day one that he has done absolutely nothing illegal, improper or unethical." (May 8, 2006).

Your answer: It was said by Brian Walsh, a spokesman for Congressman Bob Ney (R-Ohio). Ney pleaded guilty today to corruption arising from the Jack Abramoff Republican lobbyist scandal and faces up to ten years in prison (update: although prosecutors are asking for 27 months).

Ney, a six-term Congressman represented OH-18, but resigned in August. The district has gone from safe Republican to toss-up. The replacement Republican candidate by the way, state Senator Joy Padgett, was "handpicked" by Ney, and won her runoff election yesterday.

Fear of a BlackBerry Planet (redux)

Fear of a BlackBerry Planet

Risk and hazard assessment are integral parts of geography as evidenced by this recent job announcement from the Geography department at Durham University in the UK:

Durham University seeks to appoint SIX, five-year RCUK Fellows to join the newly established Institute for Hazard and Risk Research (IHRR), a major University interdisciplinary research institute led by Durham’s RAE5* Geography Department. The appointments may start on or after 1st November 2006, subject to standard probationary conditions, will be converted into
permanent lectureship positions at the end of the fellowship.

Applicants are invited for fellows in the following fields:
Risk and Technology Risk,
Security and Terror
Volcanic Hazards and Risk
Landslide Hazard and Risk
Hazards and Risks of Climate Change (x2)
As I mentioned in a recent post however it turns out we are bad at assessing risk 1) because it gets politicized, 2) because we're poor odds thinkers , and 3) because governments depend on security threat assessments in order to function.

Here's a follow-up. After the London incident with the threat from liquids, several experts have stated that the threat was over-stated. According to a new essay in Salon:

1. The allegations were "substantially" exaggerated
2. The plot's leaders had been under surveillance for over a year
3. They had not even succeeded in making explosives from the liquids
4. An expert on explosives at the University of Rhode Island observes that the creation of the kinds of liquid bomb sought is extremely difficult and hard to produce on an aircraft (it takes several hours for example and gives off noxious fumes, as well as requiring precise temperature controls). Here's a paper on this, which I don't have the training or background to interpret.

But that's my point. A lot of our view of such matters is based on Hollywood movies and the kinds of car chase scenes that end in an immediate fireball when the cars crash. (When I was a teenager I was a witness to a small motorbike accident--the guy was knocked off and broke his arm. My overriding fear was that the motorbike, lying on its side by the road, would somehow explode, even though it was not on fire.) It's given to very few of us to make an informed interpretation of the odds of this threat, and so we accept what we're told.

With the information now coming out (not just in Salon but in the New York Times and from British officials saying it was all exaggerated) we might reasonably ask why passengers and the American public have not reacted against the new regulations banning toothpaste and causing fear of a a BlackBerry. As Salon asks, where's the outrage? We're flying in basically the five-hour equivalent of a medium-security penitentiary.

The Salon article (by Patrick Smith) is one of the few I've seen that does any kind of critical, independent thinking about these issues. Perhaps the Durham Fellowships, which were posted on a critical geography listserv, can help encourage more of it.

But I'm not sure we can wait that long. We need to take up the issue of security and threat for ourselves, not to mention on November 7.


Electoral-Vote site back in operation

In 2004 the Electoral-vote site was one of the most popular places to go to for information and maps on the presidential race. Now it's back, predicting the 2006 Senate races.

He has a handy little icon you can stick on your blog:

Click for www.electoral-vote.com

Social design: mapping the war on terror

Via atlas(t), a link to a site calling itself "social design." What is social design? It has relevance to cartography. Social design projects:

  • are affordable and sustainable
  • are made of renewable materials
  • use energy from renewable sources and increase energy efficiency
  • reduce consumption and waste, are reuseable or recyclable
  • are produced and developed locally
  • are universally accessible to people of all ages, abilities, and physical conditions
  • facillitate mobility, communication, and participation in civic life
  • decentralize political power and facillitate transparency and accountability.
As far as I can make out then it is design that affects or changes the world -- a political intervention. In some recent postings the site has had entries on "mapping the war on terror" such as this samizdat poster, originally from 2003. The icons are made form cut out pieces of paper pasted on to a found map of Manhatten.


Fear of a Blackberry

First it was an unclaimed bottle of water, now a Blackberry PDA left behind by a passenger.

Flights in the US are being diverted for both reasons. Yesterday a United Airlines flight to California from Atlanta was diverted to Dallas after a Blackberry was found on board. A spokesman for SFO airport said the plane was searched and nothing unusual was found. It was just a precaution.

I wonder by what calculus does a Blackberry constitute an actionable threat? How do you get to that point where it seems reasonable to respond by diverting a jet plane? When you have had fear instilled, you're afraid of ordinary events.

One of my memories of the days following 9/11 is of a news story of a woman who worked in a cafe in Georgia who called the authorities after two men "looked at her" suspiciously, and were dark of skin. After the men had been tracked down and detained it turned out they were med students on their way to a conference in Florida. Yes, that's right, they were our future doctors (they didn't even recall the woman).

What tools or avenues of understanding do we have that could account for our situation? What would happen if we assembled our best minds and asked them to explain risk, threat and fear? While I'm no expert, it seems to me that there are three possible categories of explanation:

1. The political explanation. In John Dean's new book, Conservatives without Conscience, he argues that fear is constructed or manufactured by politicians seeking to strengthen their power. (Dean you may recall was in the Nixon administration.) For Dean this is particularly true of conservatives who have displayed alarming tendencies over the past 15 years toward an authoritarian policy and way of life. Dean writes:

Frightening Americans...has become a standard ploy for Bush, Cheney, and their surrogates.
They add a fear factor to every course of action they pursue, whether it is their radical foreign policy of preemptive war, their call for tax cuts, their desire to privatize social security, or their implementation of a radical new health care scheme. This fearmongering began with the administration's political exploitation of the 9/11 tragedy, when it made the fight against terrorists the centerpiece of its presidency (p. 172).
Former vice-President Al Gore has made similar remarks in a keynote speech he gave in 2004 (printed in Social Research, vol. 71(4), 779-793). Noting that terrorism has the aim of instilling fear, Gore addressed the question of whether the Bush administration has deliberately leveraged that fear for political gain--accusing Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam, of being unpatriotic, for example, and of diverting attention away from a poorly performing economy (and government).

Inasmuch as politics is a discourse, if this is where our fear comes from, then it can be resisted and countered, both by those at the everyday level (found a Blackberry? well, losers weepers, finders keepers), and by those with a pulpit. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC yesterday had sharp words for this administration's politicizing of 9/11:
Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President -- and those around him -- did that.

Similarly, Dan Froomkin, writing in the Washington Post--again, on 9/11--observed:

What's also telling, as usual, is what Bush didn't say yesterday, and doesn't say, period.

He doesn't say we won't allow ourselves to be terrorized, and we won't be afraid. (That would run counter to the central Republican game plan for the mid-term election.) He doesn't say that in our zeal to fight the terrorists, we won't give up the qualities that make America great. He acknowledges no mistakes, he calls for no sacrifice, he refuses to reach out to those who disagree with him.

2. The cognitive/statistical/evolutionary explanation. Perhaps we have evolved a cognitive system that is terribly bad at assessing risk and threat, at least in terms of judging relative uncertainties. In experiments conducted during the 1970s and 80s, the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky showed that people are pretty bad at making judgements where probability is involved.

Unfortunately this covers a lot of ground, and includes scientific judgements of statistical likelihood as well.

Kahneman and Tversky showed, for example, that people tend to ignore or be unaware of the prior probability or "base rate" likelihood of something occuring. Let's say we are given the information: "Steve is very shy and withdrawn, helpful, but not very interested in people." Is he more likely to be a farmer, a librarian, an airline pilot, a salesman, or physician?

The fact that there are many more farmers than librarians (say; K&T provided base-rates in their empirical studies) enters into the probability of which job he has. But people don't think like that. They construct a cognitive "frame" or scenario in which the qualities given are adduced to be more "librarian-like" than "farmer-like."

Similarly, today it was announced that the CEO of Bristol-Myers Squibb would step down. Apparently the Justice Department is moving to investigate whether the company prevented a generic equivalent of one of its big money-makers from coming on to the market. In two separate news reports on this story it was also pointed out that the CEOs of Merck and Pfizer had also stepped down or been forced out in the last couple of years. In one story these developments were used to conclude that big pharma is currently in trouble.

But is that a justifiable conclusion? Not until we know the base rate of CEO turnover. Also reported today for instance was the story that HP is losing its CEO.

Another thing we tend to do is misunderstand chance. In coin tosses of a fair coin, which is more likely:

a). H-T-H-T-T-H
b). H-H-H-T-T-T
c). H-H-H-H-T-H?

Most people say a). is more likely than b). is more likely than c). In fact, because these are small runs (sample sizes) they are all equally likely. (A related phenomenon is the gamber's fallacy.)

It can also be shown that we assess likelihood or risk of something by how easily it is to bring instances of it to mind. So if you know of someone who died of heart failure, you are more likely to elevate the risk of heart failure more generally. In like manner, if you can bring to mind a terrorist attack, you are more likely to accept that terrorist attacks are likely.

Another bias in thinking occurs when we are given an initial number or attribute and we get fixated on this number even when we are allowed or encouraged to change it. So in an experiment where people had to judge the percentage of African nations in the United Nations, for example, a random number was generated with a roulette wheel. People were then asked to say if this number was too high or low, and allowed to change it. People for whom the roulette wheel had assigned a high number also resulted in a high estimate of the percentage. And vice versa. The initial number "sticks" even when we reject it as wrong and can change it.

These findings indicate that for a lot of the time people think heuristically and with "biases." This can be the case for trained statisticians as well as lay-people. For example, in a 2000 study, people recognized and accepted that the estate tax, if rescinded, would benefit only the top 1% of earners in this country. However, 39% of them thought that they were already in the top 1% or would be there "soon" (source)!

In summary, people seem to make judgements based on heuristics that capture an overall "frame" of the problem, rather than strict statistical probabilities. If the predominant frame is changed, their judgements could perhaps also be changed.

3. Radical-structuralist explanation. In this explanation deep-seated structural changes are identified as the causes of risk, threat and fear. For example, the ever-present need for capital to colonize new domains in order to make higher profits (just maintaining productivity is insufficient, profits must actually always grow--nobody wants stagflation). There is a fear that the money will no longer be coming in as fast as it needs to. This leads to a general nervousness which is reflected in the stock market. Notice how performance is actually less about production anymore, but about the finances--the financialization of the economy (stock value for instance, see Enron).

However, a stronger explanation, related to the first explanation (that fear is useful to sustain political advantage for the right) is that concentrating on threat and dangerousness is easier for government to operate. This idea, developed by the French thinker Michel Foucault and colleagues in the 1970s, is part of a political philosophy that is sometimes called "governmentality." In this case however, fear is not the exclusive strategy of conservatives but rather is inbuilt into the modern (neo)liberal state.

A related idea was suggested by Ulrich Beck in the early 1990s in his book Risk Society. Beck argues that modernity itself is one dominated by a philosophy of risk. If risk is threat, then we need a bevy of experts, preferably technical experts, to tell us about it (a point also made by Foucault).

A key component of this philosophy (adopted at various times according to Foucault, but increasingly from the 17th century onwards, so that it is actually a constitutive part of modern societies--take insurance for example) is that instead of dealing with subjects -- individuals -- government now dealt with groups or more accurately with "populations."

Along with this therefore came a suite of tools and techniques (including mapping) that dealt with the population. Statistics, for one (invented in the 19th century for reasons of political economy, I paraphrase a bit). The thematic map, for another. And surveillance for yet another. Birth rates, death rates, age of marriage, number of children (collectively known as biopolitics) -- all of these became of interest in order to gain the security of the state.

Now the state could look at groups and assign them a risk factor (eg., Muslims and mosques, which the FBI looked at after 9/11). If you were a member of a group your dangerousness could be assessed. Note that this reverses the assumed practice of the criminal justice system. We assume that we are of interest to the criminal justice system to the extent that we have committed a crime, that is, we come of interest after wrongdoing. That is, we are marked while guilty.

In the dangerousness/risk mode of government however, we become of interest before any wrongdoing. That is, we are marked while innocent. This is the same practice as stereotyping and profiling (racial profiling for example).

Of course a lot of people reject profiling but there is no doubt that it is used in many areas of our lives, from geographical profiling (market segmentation companies for example, committing the ecological fallacy with every zipcode lookup!) to our .insurance rates -- not based on our personal attributes but the group (zipcode or age group or whatever) that we "belong" to, to the police pulling over drivers of a certain racial profile on the New Jersey turnpike ("DWB").

* * *
These three explanations of our current climate of fear, risk and threat are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For all I know they could all three be working. If they are at all relevant, I hope that they can provide us with insight into changing the current climate of fear. Unfortunately they don't come with instructions on how to do that.


The geography of life expectancy

A new study (pdf) shows that there are marked geographical differences in your life expectancy. The differences are not solely attributable to race, income or health alone.

The map above shows differences in life expectancy according to the study. The upper two maps show life expectancies for blacks and the lower two for whites, by county.

This kind of study is interesting in that it shows that a health outcome is caused by multiple factors. Second, the authors concentrate on what they call the "eight Americas" (that is, where differences are most extreme. In this case, it is not surprising that there are differences when you look at the extremes (there usually are in any distribution), so I find that aspect less valuable/surprising.

What I think we can conclude is that health is not equally available to Americans, and that indeed it tends to be concentrated into the hands of a few. The majority of Americans outside this elite class are confined to shorter, less healthy lives.

The authors are admirably frank about discussing shortcomings in their data and methodology; shortcomings that are inherent in a large study such as this. They are realistic that for example, Asians may "return" to their country of origin if they are unhealthy and that this may lead to under-reporting of death rates in first generation Asian-Americans. A proportion of their data are therefore based on models and estimates.


Ellen Churchill Semple

Semple in 1914

People of the Inquiry: Ellen Churchill Semple (1863 - 1932)

Ellen Churchill Semple was a well-known geographer who is often associated with the theory of environmental determinism, or the idea that human behavior was caused by the environment.

Semple's legacy continues to attract attention from geographers. This AAG session for example, takes issue with her characterization as (only) an environmental determinist, and suggests that she played a much richer role in geography (training many geographers, for example).

It's little known that Semple was one of the few women to play a role in the Inquiry, where she worked on the Austro-Italian border frontier, as well as Mesopotamia. She wrote a least four substantial reports for the Inquiry (#s 500-503):

#500 June 17, 1918: "An Abridgement of the Partition of Asiatic Turkey"
#501 June 3, 1918: "Report on the Partition of Asiatic Turkey"
#502 February 1, 1918: "Report on the Geography, Climate, Commerce, Transportation, Agriculture, Livestock, and etc., of Mesopotamia"
#503 March 13, 1918: "Report on the Strategic Character of the Austro-Italian Frontier"

(Inquiry reports are available from NARA.)

The Austro-Italian border was of course a major controversy at the Peace Conference, and Semple seems to have taken a largely pro-Italian position (that is, the one that eventually won out when Italy was awarded large tracts of territory at Austria's expense).

Semple was hired in late December 1917, when she was at the University of Chicago as an assistant to Douglas Johnson at a salary of $150 per month. She was 54 years old at the time.

One of her co-workers, for whom she had just completed Report #501 above penned this ps on a letter to Isaiah Bowman: "Dr Bowman, Miss Semple has done some remarkably good and quick work." Bowman wrote to her directly a few days later saying "may I add to his good words my own appreciation of your report [on Asiatic Turkey]...I read [it] through carefully and I think it is a splendid piece of work." Bowman followed up this personal letter with an internal one to the Inquiry Executive Committee (which he headed): "She is one of the most important members of the geographic team."

Semple did not work continuously for the Inquiry, but she was re-hired to work for Mark Jefferson in early September 1918, again at the salary of $150 a month. Jefferson was working on a population map of Europe (one of his interests; Jefferson was something of a pioneer of population mapping) and he set Semple to collecting data on city sizes--a somewhat lowly task.

In November, Bowman wrote a letter to Semple telling her rather obliquely that she had been cut from the Inquiry and would be traveling to Paris along with the rest of the team. In fact, the Paris contingent would consist entirely of men. Here are excerpts from this letter from which you may be able to judge Bowman's rather officious nature:

November 9, 1918
We have to begin immediately making our final arrangements. The staff of the organization must be cut down at once very considerably -- to at least a fourth or a fifth of the organization that we have maintained up to this time. So little time remains [the Inquiry would sail on December 4, 1918] that I have to act rather quickly, and I am therefore writing this letter at once so that you may make whatever adjustments are required under the circumstances.

It is not the thought of the Inquiry that its people should have their services discontinued immediately without making an adjustment in salary, and I am glad to state that the powers that be concur in this thought. Your salary will be continued until December 15th...your own part has been a large and important one, and for this I am authorized to express the thanks of the government authorities.

Believe me,
Sincerely yours
Isaiah Bowman
After the war, Semple was the first woman to become President of the AAG (in 1921). There is an annual Semple Day at the University of Kentucky which is now in its 34th year (Semple was from Kentucky).

In 1974 it was revealed that Semple had suffered from salary discrimination while at Clark University. In an article in the Professional Geographer, Mildred Berman printed an excerpt from Churchill's will, in which she revoked a clause promising a bequest to Clark on the grounds that her salary was deliberately reduced because she "was a woman without dependents." Semple estimated that by so reducing her salary compared to her less distinguished male colleagues, Clark saved $2,500 on her salary.

Innes Keighren, a Ph.D student at the University of Edinburgh, is currently do0ing a doctoral dissertation on Semple and her 1911 book, Influences of Geographic Environment.

When did abstract thinking begin?

Ocher stone with coloring scraped out

Mapping involves abstract thinking of course; for example that one thing can represent another. A lot of scientists believe that in order to use things like color symbolism it must be attached to language.

Some recent work by Lawrence Barham of the University of Liverpool has pushed back the date at which humans might have started thinking abstractly to 200,000 years ago, double the previously accepted date. The exciting implication of this work is that perhaps this means language is equally as old.

You sometimes hear it said that mapping as an activity is almost a human universal, and some (eg., Brian Harley) have even said that it predates (written) language. While for many scholars the earliest known map is only 5000 years old (a clay tablet) or perhaps a wall painting from Turkey, this is obviously far short of 200,000 or even 100,000 BCE.

If you include paleolithic art such as the famous Lascaux caves that takes you back to around 15,000 BCE even if this could be considered a "map."

Lascaux cave paintings

Barham's work--if accepted--would force a reinterpretation of the earliest use of symbolic and abstract thought by humans. Perhaps it would also lead to a much older origin of mapping as well?

Edney's huge annotated bibliography of the history of cartography

I'm finding this a little late, but it's well worth a notice. Matthew Edney (Director of the History of Cartography project) has published a massive annotated bibliography of the history of cartography (also available as a pdf).

The fun part of this is Edney's acerbic comments and opinions. For example:

With the failure of the models of cartographic communication, of the parallel to spoken language, and of the psychophysical approach to map design (effectively moribund by 1983), academic cartographers who were not hypnotized by digital technologies increasingly turned to semiology/semiotics (the study of sign systems) as a means to conceptualize maps.
In fact, a (small?) number of people would not quite accept that cognitive experiments with maps has become moribund, although with the retirement this year of two of its leading practitioners (Bob Lloyd and Ted Steinke) it is easier to make the case (though why 1983?).

Bad-boy Denis Wood gets his own section which produces the following observation from Edney:
In these three studies, Wood set out to puncture what he understands to be academic cartography’s fatuousness. With his consciously un-academic (even anti-academic) prose style, he skewered the academic field’s self-imposed restrictions concerning, respectively, map design and map design research (too dry, too stultifying), the relation of the map to the world (too dry, too pseudo-scientific), and map reading (too dry, too factual). In its place, Wood advocated a discipline that is truly engaged with its subject matter and not intent on defending some parody wrung dry of all color and poetry.
An excellent summary!

This is an updated bib. from his earlier hard to find 1998 version.


The present culture of fear

Update: Arianna blogs her experiences that night, particularly citing Max Cleland as a hero.

When you sow the seeds of fear, then the result is likely to be a country made supine and weak. We should count up the number of stories such as this one in which we have now sunk so far to our knees that we react irrationally to a bottle of water:

Air passengers from Charlotte to Little Rock, Arkansas, had to hurry off their plane Friday after someone found a suspicious liquid on board.

The flight landed at Little Rock as scheduled Friday afternoon. But about seven miles before it landed, a crew member reported two passengers with two bottles of liquid. Police, firefighters and the bomb squad were called in, but the liquid turned out to be water.

On Friday I was feeling well enough to walk up to our local highly regarded women's college, where Arianna Huffington was giving a talk about her new book On Becoming Fearless. It was very nice to be able to walk to such a cultural event and made me feel quite proud of my neighborhood. I don't live in a big city such as New York, Chicago or LA. Huffington is a good speaker, she had a positive message, and she spoke without pretensions. Her message was not that we can get rid of fear, but rather that fearlessness is the mastery of fear. At the start of her talk she cited the example of senator Max Cleland, and then surprise! Out he came and gave a short extemporare introduction for her.

When you live by fear, everything is a risk, and you feel the need to eliminate the risk. The alternative is to accept that life is indeed risky and not to let it run your life. Being fearless is an acquired skill (she cited the fact that she was at dinner last week and her daughter was at the beach with a friend and was supposed to call her. When she didn't she called her daughter's cell phone, her daughter's friend's cellphone and her daughter's friend's mother's cellphone--all without result--before realising that she was being driven by fear. Of course, her daughter soon called her).

Just as fear can be reduced, so it can be increased (she didn't say this, in fact her talk was explicitly non-political, but I think it follows both from what she was saying and from common sense). One powerful way to increase fear is to characterise certain things as dangerous. If those things are common (types of humans, say Muslims, or types of objects, say liquids) then it is likely that not only will fear be increased when those types or categories are encountered, but we will also tend to see and notice those categories of things more frequently, again, increasing fear.

These specific fears can be supplemented by authorities by non-specific and just general background fears, the causes of which we are not informed about, but asked to take on faith. the color-coding system is a good example of this, as is the output of local and national news programs purporting to examine fear, but in fact just providing more reminders of it.

What are some of the tricks for reducing your feelings of fear? One surprise: Huffington says she always makes sure she gets enough sleep. Huffington also said that you can gain strength from past denials of fear, once you do it (for example, in her case leaving her lover of seven years, the prominant British critic Bernard Levin) and coming to the USA. She also gave tghe example of writing, where you are your own worst critic and reconsider each and every sentence that you write. She finally adopted a technique where she would write a sentence, and if her internal fear-critic judged it badly, simply wrote a red question mark next to it and continued writing, coming back to the sentence if necessary later. In this way she acknowledged the fear, but was not incapacitated by it, and reassessed it later when the emotiuon wasn't quite as hot.

I'm sure there are other common sense techniques like this you can imagine (her talk was not really about these techniques but about examples of mastering fear, nor was it one of those useless self-help guides you see in the stores). The point is that the country right now is mastered by fear. Our leaders share the blame for this due to the way thay have deliberately produced and generated fear in this country. But they will only be successful if we allow them to continue to instil fear in us.


How we have fallen

Most people may be aware that productivity has steadily increased over the last half century or so. In 1960 for example, the productivity index was just half what it is now.

But did you know that wages have steadily fallen since the early 1970s? In 1973 for example, real wages were $15.73 and in 2000 they were just $14.15 (per hour, in 2001 dollars).

The map above shows how incomes have dropped over the last six years, state by state. Only four states saw an increase, and some states saw drops as large as 12% in just six years.

In David Harvey's new book (A Brief History of Neoliberalism) he accounts for this with the so-called "Volcker shock." Paul Volcker was Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank under President Carter and Reagan, and it was during the 1970s that the neoliberal policies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan began to assume prominance. Volcker radically raised interest rates. New Deal policies of full employment were dropped in favor of anti-inflationary policies, paid for with high interest rates.

Couple this with the deregulation that Reagan pursued (breaking the unions who had previously protected workers' income) and you've got the explanation. For example, the minimum wage was on a par with the poverty level in 1980 but was 30% below it in 1990 (it was last raised in 1996).

Those are some of Harvey's arguments. It's a very good (and brief) introduction to the shift to neoliberalism we have experienced in the US and UK, not to mention neoliberal trends in China and South America. It does leave one wondering how neoliberalism might be combatted or countered, though.


Men of the Inquiry: Armin Lobeck

(This is one of an occasional series on the men and maps of the American Inquiry.)

Lobeck was one of the first men specially targeted to join the Inquiry in the early days (November 1917), the same year he got his PhD at Columbia (where Douglas Johnson was). His salary was to be a reasonably competitive $183 a month (Ellen Churchill Semple by contrast received $150 a month). Lobeck became professor of geology at Columbia in 1919 and stayed there the rest of his career.

Lobeck's papers are held in at least three archives. Columbia University holds papers relating to his journey to Paris with the Inquiry, the National Archives contain his correspondence, maps, and papers relating to the inquiry and the American Commission to Negotiate Peace (the official name of the Inquiry in Paris), while the American Geographical Library in Milwaukee contains papers about his career more generally, including some correspondence while at sea on the way to Paris.

Joining the Inquiry.
After graduating with this PhD Lobeck was ordered through the Selective Service law to perform military service at Camp Dix, which caused some problems for the Inquiry. Bowman wanted him, and Walter Lippmann (the famous journalist) and Inquiry member was tasked with extracting Lobeck as quickly as possible. Copying Bowman's words, Lippmann telegrammed Ralph Hays at the War Department:

[Lobeck] can make a kind of map which we absolutely need to have made and there are only four men in the whole country who can make these maps. We shall need all of them. Try to arrange [his release] immediately as these maps are basic to all our work (Lippmann - Hays, 16 Nov. 1917).
Hays was reluctant to let Lobeck go by "imperial edict" as he put it, but was willing to have Lobeck detailed or furloughed to New York for the duration. This would allow the army to gain Lobeck's service after his return from the Inquiry. The War Department further queried Lippmann's request by stating that they "supposed map-making was a rather easy job for topographical engineers, and that there were welters of competent people in the country doing it" (Newton D. Baker-Lippmann, Nov. 17, 1917).

Here Lippmann was drawing on his extensive network of colleagues in high places, as he would throughout his career (Lippmann was an assistant to Baker when he was appointed to the Inquiry himself and addressed him familiarly as "NDB").

Lippmann and Bowman sat down and drafted a response that would explain their need for Lobeck's skill in drafting block diagrams. It was, they said "a highly specialized and accurate form of drawing and is not ordinary map construction which can be done by almost any trained engineer or draftsman. It is display in perspective of the relief and hydrography of a region with all the geometrical accuracy of a map." Bowman signed it as Director of the AGS.

Lippmann added that the Inquiry planned to use Lobeck for about six months, although this would in fact turn out to be woefully wrong; the number seems to have been chosen merely as something the War Department would accept. Lippmann and Bowman wanted these maps for the “Western Front from the Alps to the sea, carefully arranged to show mineral deposits, water ways, etc. We shall make similar maps for the belt of territory from the Baltic through Mesopotamia, so that the wholeBaghdadd corridor as well as the end of the Adriatic will be displayed” (Lippmann-Baker, Nov. 21 1917, Lobeck files). Although the Adriatic and Italy were mapped in this way, there’s no evidence that the Mesopotamia region was ever mapped like this, but I must admit I have not explicitly yet checked if there are any files on this region.

If we look at LobeckÂ’s Istria map we can see the level of detail involved.

Meanwhile, Lobeck was whiling his way at Camp Dix, where the order to extract him was taking a little while to be processed. The plan was to have him enlist in a kind of reserve enlisted reserve (the Engineers Reserve Corps.) which would take him off active duty status. Lobeck kept a positive spirit about it all, despite a few complaints about the amount of paperwork needed to get him away.

In a letter to Bowman he wrote that “the barracks are cheerful and comfortable and I sleep wonderfully…This week in spite of the very bad weather we have been on the big rifle range learning how to use the new Enfield pieces with high power ammunition…you know we have to march 51/2 miles to the range. Many of the men had frozen ears and it was necessary to bring them back to camp by ambulance.” (Lobeck to Bowman, Dec. 13, 1917).

Lobeck also commented on his fellow reservists and their lack of training. “An infinitely small percent of the men are technically trained. Most of them are of the laboring type and many of them are of foreign origin and can hardly speak, let alone write English.” (Lobeck to Bowman, Dec. 13, 1917). Lobeck finally made it to New York City on Boxing Day, 1917.

Work for the Inquiry.

In the summer of 1918, after working on the Italian area all spring, Bowman, who was spending Independence Day in New Hampshire, directed that Lobeck should begin work on a block diagram of the Guatemala-Honduras border region. It was an urgent job; Lobeck would have just two weeks to complete it, but he could have the help of Dominion.

Leon Dominian was originally from Turkey, although he had lived in the USA since 1912. As a member of the AGS staff, he was an obvious candidate to become a member of the Inquiry, where he worked for Clive Day on the Balkans. In 1913, shortly after Dominian arrived in America, he was involved in a strange controversy concerning a theory put forward by a Marshall B. Gardner that the earth was hollow. This was around the time that the earth’s poles were first being explored, and leaving all sorts of strange phenomena unexplained (frozen mammoths etc.). After Gardner had published his book, the Pittsburgh Leader decided to take him seriously enough to contact the AGS for a rebuttal. Dominian was deputized to refute this theory, which he did, at least to the satisfaction of the newspaper (Gardner believed he in turn counter-refuted Dominian). Probably every academic gets these requests—I remember when I was grad school I was contacted about whether an egg can stand up on the equinox (I’m not sure how they got my name).

Dominian had written a survey book on Europe’s languages in 1917, which demonstrated its susceptibility to racist arguments by the fact that it carried a foreword by Madison Grant. Grant’s own book, The Passing of the Great Race, lamented the falling from rightful power of white people. Nevertheless, despite these racist tones and the fact that Grant helped agitate for racist quota-based immigration laws in the 1920s, he remained a Councilor of the American Geographical Society for many years, including while Bowman was Director. In another footnote to history, the well-known Berkeley anthropologist, Alfred Kroeber, gave an immensely positive review to Dominian’s book: “an introduction by Madison Grant emphasizes the prevailing lack of race consciousness in Europe and the circumstance that language is the essential factor in the creation of national unity and nationality” (Am. Anth. 20(3).

Lobeck’s maps were not puny affairs, but rather large scale sheets, often five feet by five and done at tthe regional scale (eg., 1:300,000) with a vertical exaggeration of four times. In this way he could show in detail the area of interest—the border between Guatemala and Honduras is no less than two feet long for example.

While LobecksÂ’ block diagrams were certainly attractive and easy to use, one problem with them was that it was hard to get a sense of absolute height. They dealt more with the relative relief, what one ridge looked like compared to another. An ordinary map however such as a topographic map in common use in the military, had the advantage that absolute heights could be determined, so that for example it could be seen whether one ridge was visible from another one, or if one portion of the map was higher than another portion.

Lobeck wrote excitedly to Bowman on July 7, 1918 with a proposal for an “entirely new way” of showing relief that would solve this problem. His suggestion was to combine his block diagrams with contour lines shown in perspective. The result “is simply a bold rounded outline of the mountain ranges” with the contour heights labeled.


History of Cartography exhibition at Field Museum, Chicago

An exhibition called "Maps! The History of Cartography" will be mounted at Chicago's Field Museum in conjunction with the Newberry Library later this year:

The Field Museum, in partnership with the Newberry Library, will offer an unprecedented exhibition of some of the most rare and historically valuable maps ever created. Visitors will see, assembled for the first time, maps and artifacts drawn from collections around the world. This collection of maps will challenge our views of the world by emphasizing that maps tell us not just where we are, but who we are. Any map, no matter what else it shows, also conununicates how the people, nation, government, or organization that made it viewed their worlds. Each section will feature a wide variety of map types, formats, and functions. The exhibition will also utilize a variety of media to explain to visitors how maps were made in the past and are being made today. Curators. Dr. James R. Akerman, Dr. Robert W. Karrow, Jr., The Newberry Library. For more information, please contact: Todd J. Tubutis, Senior Project Manager, Exhibitions, The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive Chicago, IL 60605-2496. Many of the maps will go to an exhibition at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore when the exhibit closes.
I found out about this because of a piece in the Chicago Tribune on Milwaukee, which apparently has a large J.R.R. Tolkien collection, and which is contributing some Tolkien maps.



Interesting to see that loyal ubikcans are still visiting the site even when there are no posts!

Sorry, but I've been laid out with bronchitis this week. I feel like the old man at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey when he's lying in bed, breath rasping, and the monolith appears at the foot of his bed. About all he can do is weakly raise his hand (yearning? expectation? greeting? warding off?) before he's transformed into the Star Child.

(Yes, there's a fever that goes with B. which helps explain such lurid dreams...)

Anyway, according to the figures, there were over a 1,000 visitors last month. Thanks for your interest and I hope to be back again in a few days!