Cartography: Race and Ethnicity, in Full Color

I’ve long had a fixation on maps.  Ever since I was a kid, they have drawn me in- it’s the simplest, most basic way to familiarize yourself with a geographical area.  I would spend most of my free time in elementary school perusing world atlases, wondering what these faraway places were like.  As I got older, I saw the added utility in maps.  The idea of representing data graphically with a spatial component has always drawn me in, considering the nearly infinite things that can be expressed this way.  For instance, maps can be used as a form of social analysis and critique all their own, as exhibited clearly by the work of Radical Cartography and captured in the Atlas of Radical Cartography (pick it up!).  I’ll let you peruse those on your own.

Earlier this week, Eric Fischer released his ‘Race and Ethnicity‘ series, inspired by earlier work by Bill Rankin at Radical Cartography, looking at the racial distributions in dozens of American cities.  Recommend taking a look at that for sure; see where your city falls in the list.  Visually, it grates on me; it’s like a pointillist’s wet dream, and the use of these politically-charged colors may be a distraction.  Furthermore, how does it code for people of mixed-race?  That will be crucial data moving forward.

One thing that catches my eye, in particular to the map on the left, is that all of these were compiled with Census data from 2000.  I’m not sure when the 2010 data will be available, but I will be very interested to see how things have changed over the past ten years.  Where has economic deterioration, gentrification, and disaster come into play in shifting around populations?  Any predictions out there?  I’m pretty sure that in NOLA, at least, we can expect to see a notable shift of blue to red, as black residents were pushed out in favor of white gentrification post-Katrina.  Maybe we’ll see entire swaths of the Crescent City devoid of residents. I think what strikes me across all maps is the relative lack of intermingling between races, and presence of rather sharp dividing lines.  There are some notable exceptions, but the major theme of these maps seems to be stark divisions.  It seems that the common conception is that we associate with those that are most like us, however we conceptualize of ourselves.  Yet to see this representation, showing the stark divisions in how we organize ourselves, is somehow rather surprising.  Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is, at least to me.

This is a lot of data to process, with implications for each of the cities profiled by Fischer.  Like I said, I await with baited breath for someone to redo this study with 2010 data.  From there, I hope people take a good, long look at these maps and figure out what it means for their community.  Is it good?  Is it bad?  Time will tell.  I really wish I had something more profound to close with, but I think we’re going to need the benefit of a long analysis on these.  So, find your city, find some close comparisons, and get on it!


Potential Terrorist: Everyone

In a story broken this week by the Patriot-News of central Pennsylvania, the state has been informing law enforcement of movements of anti-drilling activists as potential terrorist threats.  You read me right.  The state is charged by Washington to inform local officials of “credible real threats to critical infrastructure,” and in the interpretation of the state’s Office of Homeland Security, that includes assemblies to comment, protest, and speak out against the threats of natural gas drilling.  As part of briefings for local law enforcement, groups protesting gas drilling have been highlighted for attention as possible threats.  But not only that- the OHS director has also been sending them to the very same companies targeted by these activists for protest.

State Homeland Security Director James Powers explained that he has been including anti-gas drilling activist information in his tri-weekly intelligence briefings for about a month because there have been “five to 10” incidents of vandalism around the state related to the natural gas industry, which is one of the sectors he is charged with monitoring.

One of those incidents, he said, involved someone shooting a natural gas container tank with a shotgun in Venango County.

Who needs police work when you can just casually pin it on someone without evidence?

Comparing himself to the Tommy Lee Jones’ character in the film “The Fugitive,” Powers said, “I don’t care” which side of the issue someone is on — or if they’re innocent. “My concern is public safety.” However, the “intelligence” in the briefings includes lists of public meetings the state has determined anti-drilling activists plan to attend.

How unflaggingly noble!  Not taking any side!

When one of these intelligence bulletins was spotted on a pro-drilling Internet site and disseminated among anti-drilling activists, Powers sent an e-mail of reprimand to the woman who e-mailed it.

He mistakenly thought she was pro-drilling.

In the e-mail, Powers told the woman the “sensitive information” she disseminated is not meant for the public, but only for those “having a valid need to know.”

He added, “We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders, while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies.”

Oh.  Well, so much for impartiality, innocent-till-proven-guilty, etc. etc.

For his part, Governor Rendell apologized profusely and showed his disgust over the process yesterday.  It also came to light that gay pride parades, taxpayer rallies, protests in support of the governor’s education policies, anti-war groups, deportation rallies, mountaintop removal protests and animal rights events were indicated on the “threats to critical infrastructure” reports.  It seems the crux of the matter comes down to two retired cops who somehow finagled their way into a federal contract providing these briefings to the state.  Rendell himself stated that they were “absolutely ludicrous” and “of no value.”

Let’s be real.  Industry, particularly extractive industry, is going to do whatever they can get away with.  Without oversight, be it government or informed citizenry, a company is gonna do what a company is gonna do: maximize profits for shareholders, and nothing else.  And one sure-fire way to eat into profits is to abide by environmental regulations.  This also means downplaying potential threats such as expected pollution or damage to the land.  In the case of natural gas drilling, hydrofracking is surrounded by mystery as companies have not disclosed what these processes include.  Is it so absurd to demand openness and accountability, and the taking of precautions?  Is it criminal to demand that oversight be applied?  Hell no it isn’t.  It’s just inconvenient.  I will note that there is no evidence whatsoever that companies have demanded this information.  But they have it now, provided by government workers who put the well-being of corporate citizens ahead of that of private citizens.  Such as it was, such as it may always be.

So, my takeaway is this: in the eyes of law enforcement, particularly those concerned with terrorism and homeland security, anyone that goes against the status quo of business and social order is a potential threat.  A possible terrorist-in-waiting.  If you are concerned with the pollution caused by gas drilling, or maybe unhappy with the deforestation and habitat loss associated with drilling, you are painted with the brush of a potential terrorist, eyed as a potential cause of violence.  Are you OK with that?

Who is really in charge of our security?  Are they doing the right job?  Is this a suitable focus of time, effort and expense, or is it all just rigmarole and security theater?  At least in this instance, I think it is clear- the keys to security are in the hands of uninformed, or lazy, or highly overzealous men that have no real understanding or respect of the rights of American citizens.

Who watches the watchers?  It better be you and I, and everyone, or else this will continue to happen.  So keep those eyes open, it’s on all of us.

Happy Labor Day!

It’s a nice sentiment, but just what does it mean?  It’s not just the end of summer and another reason to barbecue.  Labor Day was proclaimed a federal holiday in 1894, in order to pay tribute to “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” which has over the years been completely lost in translation.  But around the turn of the century, the struggle between labor and management often led to strikes and violence.  Desperate to curry favor with labor that held him in popular contempt, President Cleveland declared the first Monday of September the worker’s holiday, avoiding associations with May 1, May Day and the Haymarket Riots.

Douglass Crockwell: Paper Workers, 1934

Considering how many times in this country’s history, those struggling for the rights of workers in the face of oppression, fraud and violence have been met with even greater violence, I try to keep in mind the real meaning of Labor Day.  The things we take for granted today, were fought for yesterday at great cost.  If you like your eight-hour workday, raise your glass to the unionists of yesterday, as they bled for it.

So, in honor of the occasion, I present to you an exhibit from the American Art Museum in Washington, DC.  ‘1934: A New Deal for Artists‘ finished it’s run last January, but the exhibition is online at Flickr.  All the works contained therein were part of the Public Works of Art Project, which ran as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.  For six months, artists from around the country captured their interpretations of “the American Scene.”  Considering the breadth of talent, the varying interpretations of this topic was, as expected, diverse and compelling.

I have included a few of my favorite paintings, as well as some of those that focus on labor in such a trying time for America.  So please, enjoy, and I highly encourage you to check it out and read further.  Thanks!

Ross Dickinson - Valley Farms, 1934

Jacob Getlar Smith: Snow Shovellers, 1934

Julia Eckel: Radio Broadcast, 1934

Tyrone Comfort: Gold is Where You Find It, 1934

Honestly, I could post a dozen more, I loved the show that much.  The curators did a fantastic job in tying these works together, and with the context they were created within.  It’s not longer on show in DC, but it is touring the country through 2014, so do check it out if it is near your hometown!

Whatcom Museum of History and Art in Bellingham, Washington (September 16, 2010 – January 9, 2011)
The Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando, Florida (February 3, 2011 – May 1, 2011)
Oklahoma City Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (May 26, 2011 – August 21, 2011)
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama (September 24, 2011 – January 8, 2012)
Muskegon Museum of Art in Muskegon, Michigan (February 16, 2012 – May 6, 2012)
Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota (June 2, 2012 – September 30, 2012)
Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin (February 16, 2013 – April 28, 2013)
Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa (September 28, 2013 – January 5, 2014)
Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine (Jan. 30, 2014 – May 11, 2014)