COVID19: Relax, Everything’s Getting Better..?

March 24, 2020
March 24
March 22

These maps were taken from the NYTimes on March 24th (top), and March 22 (second image). The size of the shaded circles indicates the number of known COVID19 cases in each major infection center, and it appears, just going on the size of the circles, that things have gotten better, right? Just compare the symbols over the New York region in the map directly above to the one at the top of the post. I’m sure if Trumpy sees this, he will congratulate himself, and maybe get out his Sharpie to highlight this evidence of his wonderful leadership.

Ah…but scale is everything. Not map scale, in this case, but the symbology metric. As the number of cases in NYC grows exponentially (and that term is correct in this instance, not just hyperbole) the circular graphic would grow so large that it would extend to the edges of the image, which would make it difficult to interpret. So, it appears, the cartographers have adjusted the scale of the symbols, i.e., a given increment in the symbol radius indicates a greater number of cases today than on March 22. If you zoom into the map to read the numerical values that indicate the raw count, you can see that it has gone up significantly although the symbol size has not.


COVID19 in the USA

March 23, 2020

This map shows the census tracts (in black) where about 67% of the USA population lives (2010 data) overlaid onto the NYTimes map of COVID19 cases (3/22/2020).  Sorry about the problem with northwest Washington state!

The implication is obvious, and should have been clear to everyone for a while now:  Two thirds of the population of the USA is at immediate risk of infection from the virus.  If unconstrained, that’s more than 200 million cases, with a mortality rate somewhere between 0.1% and 1.0%.  That’s a lot of people at risk of death, up to two million.

Let’s hope that the increasing number of areas on lock-down slow the spread and reduce the number!

Be well, readers.  (Both of you!)


Target London – Where’s the damn map?

January 15, 2014

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Target London, by Christy Campbell, tells the story of the second London blitz of 1944 by unmanned flying bombs and supersonic rockets.  The story is told in detail – great detail.  In fact, the first half of the 400 pages, before the first V-1/buzzbomb/doodlebug hits England, is at the same time extraordinarily tedious and gripping, narrating as it does the years of intelligence work that preceded the first attacks.  We have a front seat on the bureaucratic infighting, brilliant and difficult personalities, blunders and  intellectual coups transpiring as the British sifted through mountains of intercepted messages, once they had cracked the Enigma codes, of course.

All of this was done before the digital age had dawned, although they did have the essential help of the earliest of computers, which they called “bombes.” All very, very, Ultra secret.  Only a select few were allowed to be “in the picture.

Part of the British intelligence game was not letting the Germans know how much they knew about what the Germans were doing. Giving that game away would prompt the Germans to change methods, tighten up security, adopt different covers, which would then have to be blown again.  There was a lot of deception, misinformation, cover stories, hoaxes, some of which seems to have amused the directors greatly.

When the Germans finally got their V-1 (V for victory and revenge, revenge for the British terror bombings of civilian urban centers) buzzbombs flying into London, the engineers needed accurate information on where they struck. This was essential for evaluating and improving their performance.  Juan Pujol, a London-based Spanish  double-agent under British control was tapped by the Germans to report. They wanted information on bomb strikes plotted on a London map, ruled into squares, a grid.  As Campbell relates:

Juan Pujol, agent Garbo, still had to get the right map on which to plot where the Maikäfer [Maybugs – the German nickname for the V-1] were falling. It was proving a problem. Garbo radioed his control, and bought the Baedeker guide to London from a second-hand bookshop. But Control insisted on the Pharus version. Garbo’s research took him to the British Museum Library, where he found “the only copy in existence. I learn that the German map was edited in 1907 and therefore is very antique indeed. It seems to me very strange that the war plans are worked out in Berlin on such antique maps.”

But now, at least, everyone was working from the same grid.

Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow, made the idea of gridded London famous.  In the first part of the story, exactly that type of map – it probably was not a Pharus! – is tacked to the wall of the flat where Teddy Bloat, Tyrone Slothrop, and other servicemen are living during the V-2 assault.  The map shows a strange convergence of data:  Slothrop’s female conquests and the rocket strikes seem oddly congruent.

Ah, yes, if you are not all using the same set of coordinates, your data will be meaningless.  I know about that personally.  Here is the map that the German rocket masters wanted to use – German, of course – and very nice indeed.

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Well, it’s not just German commanders who have some problems with maps:

HOTSPUR: Lord Mortimer, and cousin Glendower, Will you sit down? And uncle Worcester: a plague upon it!

I have forgot the map.

GLENDOWER: No, here it is.

William Shakespeare Henry IV (Part 1)

The British were able to defend against the V-1 to some extent.  Fighters and anti-aircraft guns could shoot some of them down, and their noise and relatively low-speed provided warning to civilians.  The V-2 was a different story.  Here is another peek at a stamp issued late in 1944, I think, that celebrates the launching of the ultimate revenge weapon, the V-2 rocket, against which there was no defense possible.  The image is pure propaganda: rockets ascended vertically and were never launched in such salvos.  Just as British intelligence confused and conflated the flying bomb and the true rocket for a long time, this stamp combines the powerful launch of the V-2 with the slanting trajectory of the V-1, which was shot from a ramp.

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Here is a reconstructed V-1 on a launch ramp.  As you can see, the ramp is light, and easily transported.  The Germans developed portable pre-fab ramps after the Allies started bombing their hardened launch sites.

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The bombing wasn’t all that effective, but it did disrupt testing and perfecting the V-1.  Precision bombing isn’t all that it was cracked up to be in those days, or today.

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The work of building the flying bombs and rockets was moved to a fantastic underground system of factories excavated and manned by slave labor overseen by civilian engineers and managers. Wernher von Braun, later the leader of the American rocket development effort for war and peace, was as undisturbed by these facts as are the suited civilians in second photo below.  These incredible color photos were taken by Walter Frentz, a colleague of  Leni Riefenstahl, apparently as part of propaganda/selling job for the project.  Notice how nicely groomed the slaves are.  Of course, those needed for skilled technical labor stood the best chance of surviving.  More photos and history at this excellent site.

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“Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
That’s not my department,” says Wernher von Braun.   

Tom Lehr

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Ground-Truth

May 18, 2013

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Bellagio is a beautiful place, set on a promontory between two arms of Lake Como, the Swiss Alps in the distance, lush vegetation all around, mild climate…no wonder Stendhal, Manzoni, and Virgil, to name a few, loved it.

Searching for the location of our hotel, after booking it online months ago, I saw this image on GoogleMaps.  A villa with a front lawn extending the width of the town?
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Last week, I found myself there, walking that grassy avenue, the Vialone.  It was built by the owner of Villa Giulia, visible on the right, with formal gardens at the lakeside, so that he could have an unimpeded view of both arms of Lake Como.  It’s always a bit strange to find oneself walking terrain that one has previously only known from a map or aerial view.  Was someone watching me from above?

The Vialone terminates in a flight of steps down to the lake on the western side.
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Walking the Vialone in the direction of Villa Guilia, facing east.
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Melville on Vere on Melville

November 19, 2012

From Billy Budd, by Herman Melville, on Captain Vere, emphasis added:

… not only did the captain’s discourse never fall into the jocosely familiar, but in illustrating any point touching the stirring personages and events of the time, he would cite some historical character or incident of antiquity with the same easy air that he would cite from the moderns. He seemed unmindful of the circumstance that to his bluff company such allusions, however pertinent they might really be, were altogether alien to men whose reading was mainly confined to the journals. But considerateness in such matters is not easy in natures constituted like Captain Vere’s. Their honesty prescribes to them directness, sometimes far-reaching like that of a migratory fowl that in its flight never heeds when it crosses a frontier.

I think he could have been describing himself and his own prose.


Soul

September 27, 2012

Soul is a novella by Andrey Platonov, who also wrote the fascinating, disturbing, and enigmatic Foundation Pit.  Thanks again to the NYR Books imprint for publishing these new translations.  The story tells of a young engineer who returns to his homeland to ‘save’ the Nation that gave him birth.  It’s a very mystical and dreamlike take on Stalin and the ‘nationalities problem.’  It reads like a metaphysical poem crossed with a J.G. Ballard story, and the language is less difficult than that of The Foundation Pit, but no less precisely styled, at least as far as translations allow us to glimpse it.

The ethnic group from which the hero springs inhabits the area shown in the yellow circle of the map above, one of my collection.  I like maps of that region:  they are so incomplete, so lacking in clear national boundaries, standing in the cross-roads of colliding and migrating cultures.  Also, the Aral Sea is there, a great monument to modern hydrological radicalism.  The NYRB edition includes a map of the region:  the different shape of the Aral is not due only to changes in mapping science in the intervening 300 years; it’s disappearing rapidly.

I have not read all of the stories in this collection, but The Return, the wrenching tale of a WWII veteran coming home after the war, and The Third Son, the very short story of the return home for the funeral of their mother of an old man’s six sons, are remarkable.  Both stories leave us with a sense of the transcendent humanity inherent in universal domestic events.

Platonov was a remarkable genius.


Maps in the News!

March 21, 2011

The grid of streets in Manhattan is celebrating its 200th birthday this week.  The urban grid itself has a much longer history than that, of course, going back at least as far as the Greek settlement in Turkey at Miletus.

Evacuation zones are on the minds of many who are watching developments at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan:  A map of similar zones for NJ was published in several newspapers recently.  An article in today’s Times indicates that these cartographies of danger are more fantasy than reality.  Not in the sense that the dangers are not real, but in that the ‘plans’ associated with the maps are infeasible.

Which leads me back to a more benign example of zones of influence that is similar in form, but different in intent from these buffer zones of horror – personal space.

her fame had spread itself to the very out-edge and circumference of that circle of importance, of which kind every soul living, whether he has shirt on his back or no,-has one surrounding him…But I must here, once for all, inform you, that all this will be more exactly delineated and explained in a map, now in the hands of the engraver, which with many other pieces and developments of this work,will be added to the end of the twentieth volume

from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne