“It’s hard to look people int eh eye and say they don’t have a job anymore — not because of anything they, or we, did in correctly or because we weren’t caring for women in a fabulous way.”

Around one dozen clinics in Texas have shut down or stopped offering abortions after Republicans in the state successfully pushed through legislation that requires doctors performing procedures to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

Other laws in neighboring states — such as laws requiring the widening of hallways or the installation of high-tech surgical sinks — have caused abortion clinics to fire workers and shut down.

Legislation in Republican-controlled states counts for half of the 73 clinic closures since 2011. The people hardest hit by the shifting laws: Poor and minority women.

Women who live near McAllen, Texas — many of them poor — will now have to drive 150 miles to Corpus Christi if they want an abortion. Their other option: The local flea market, where illegal do-it-yourself drugs cost around $15 a pill.

Republicans have stopped challenging Roe vs. Wade. Their new tactic: Make it harder to get an abortion. So far, their strategy is working.

More: The Vanishing Abortion Clinic (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Last week while shooting another assignment in town for Businessweek, I get a text from one of the editors saying “Mike! Call me back, I want to put you in a helicopter.” 

The next day I got on a plane and spent three days in the suburban wasteland know as Phoenix, Arizona for a story about the housing boom currently going on there. It was on of the most challenging stories of my life from a visual standpoint but in the end, after spending hours driving around in circles in a never ending sea of shopping centers and mile long blocks (seriously), I am really happy and proud of what I was able to do. 

We’re at ‘peak photographer’ at the moment. There is an entire idiot class of professional photographer who seem to believe they’re creating something essential every time they pick up a camera. It’s not the photographer’s fault. I blame the creative directors who commission them. There are way too many photographs in the world. Think of how many pictures have been taken all over the world in the time you’ve read this article – even this sentence. This is another sentence I’ve just typed, so that’s like a ton more. All these images multiplying and multiplying. All those shitty pictures of cats and beautiful sunsets that sit dying in the corner of your smart phone, shared with the hope of being liked by people who all have the same thousand pictures hiding on their phone. All these forgettable memories. I don’t see that’s much different from the endless stream of boring fashion pictures, boring travel pictures, boring still lifes of food that are commissioned by magazines, ad agencies, marketing firms. For every Juergen Teller there are a million Terry Richardsons. So let’s just stop. Or just use what’s there already. Or at least think about it. Sorry I’ve lost my thread. What was the question again?

Businessweek Ranks Schools On Girls’ Hotness

Why did Businessweek think it was a good idea to poll its users about which college campuses have the hottest female students?

Easy: It has done it before and no one noticed.

This year, however, coming just after an election season full of heated debate over the “war on women,” Businessweek’s decision to promote their survey with a headline and a tweet asking “Which business school has the most attractive female students?” went over about as well as you’d expect.

Reaction to the tweet was swift and universally negative, with most reactions either ofappalled horror and disbelief or smirking potshots. On the article itself, reaction was even more negative. Reader Rachel Sklar commented (cached link):

Nothing says “We don’t take women in business seriously” like ranking women based on their looks. This demeans every woman who works at your magazine, every woman you’ve ever covered, and pretty much every woman ever. And it is meant to. Know that this is intentional sexism. Whomever was responsible for publishing this knew exactly what kind of message it sent. That it got sent from BUSINESSWEEK makes it all the more stunning. Fix. This. Fast.

Read more at the Daily Dot! it gets even better when the *COLLEGE PROWLER* SHOWS UP. YES, THAT IS ITS ACTUAL NAME.

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Time And Businessweek’s Ferguson Covers Are Stunning For More Than One Reason

For its cover on the crisis in Ferguson, Time chose this stark, powerful image. The picture would seem very appropriate, but its use is all the more resonant because the photographer behind the camera is Scott Olson, one of the many journalists arrested for documenting what was taking place in the Missouri town.

Olson also happened to take the picture that graces the equally powerful cover of Businessweek.

The biggest retail hack in U.S. history wasn’t particularly inventive, nor did it appear destined for success. In the days prior to Thanksgiving 2013, someone installed malware in Target’s (TGT) security and payments system designed to steal every credit card used at the company’s 1,797 U.S. stores.

At the critical moment—when the Christmas gifts had been scanned and bagged and the cashier asked for a swipe—the malware would step in, capture the shopper’s credit card number, and store it on a Target server commandeered by the hackers.

Target Missed Warnings in Epic Hack of Credit Card Data

Skiers #1.

Vail, CO (2013)

I went to Vail last weekend to shoot a travel story for Businessweek. I don’t ski, snowboard or even sled, so for me the mountain felt like a fascinating little foreign wonderland.

And I have another big email newsletter with a bunch of new work going out next week, so sign up if you want in.

http://benjaminrasmussenphoto.com/#/about/newsletter-signup

Process post: how to make a giant oil spill map the hard way

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Pray listen, stranger, to a tale of noble deeds and bitter struggle, of fffffttt nope it’s about me doing computershit for around three weeks. But I am proud of this graphic and interactive map on oil spills and it has a sort of Homeric-level story behind it. But only if the first thousand stanzas of the Odyssey were him trying to untangle rigging while yelling “Does anyone know how to sail?”

I pitched a bigass graphic timed with the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill, which was both an ecological catastrophe and a watershed moment for petro-tragedy regulation. Recap: a tired third mate under the command of a drunk captain plowed an oil tanker into a reef, around 1/5 of its crude poured into a remote Alaskan sound, and a lot of wildlife death followed. Thousands of people hosed rocks and scrubbed birds, Exxon paid far out the butt, and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 firmed up liability law for spills. 25 years later and there’s residual crud stuck to beaches and fewer Orcas than there should be. So yeah, heavy hydrocarbons tend to linger. Try and keep them out of the biosphere.

I wanted a map showing all oil spills in U.S. waters since the Valdez. Step zero: find a dataset. I alighted on the National Response Center query tool, which is the pollution incident reporting clearinghouse run by the U.S. Coast Guard. It is, naturally, pretty dated-looking and also uses flash. A classic tale of news dev woe. I grabbed the yearly summary data files, found they were inexplicably wrapped in self-extracting .exes, took a round trip to my windows laptop, out came two dozen excel files with ~12 tabs each, which I then ran through some excel macros to split into 231 discrete CSVs covering the years 1990 to 2012. Phew.

From those I wanted to sift the incident date, the vector (ship, refinery, etc.), the stuff spilled (petroleum only), the spill amount and the location. Of course there was no documentation to help me sort the useful field names from the PTF_FLAG_Ys that made up the bulk of the column headers, but with a little bit of OpenRefine and a lot of emails, I figured I could likely sort that out.

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So now I had data from 1990-2012 in a sorta-convenient format, but I had to use a python script to grab 2013-2014 pollution incidents from the query tool.

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At least I would have done that but for being caught between the Scylla of website maintenance and the Charybdis of pokey FOIA approvals: the query tool went down, so I was not getting any more data. Wasn’t too awful a fate since the editors okayed using data up to 2012.

But then I took a closer look at the data and noticed how locations were stored. Addresses. Cities. States. Oh lord, geocoding. I’d need to geocode an apocalyptic number of incidents, sure to overwhelm whatever API I could throw at it. A pall fell over the project. Mostly because I’m bad at thinking things through.

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NICAR 2014 interrupted my panic, the news-Calypso to break up my hideous journey. I especially enjoyed David Fallis’ talk on tracking guns and the four “intro to SQL” classes I had to camp out for (note to NICAR 2015: overflow rooms for the hands-on seshes would help). SQL, SQL…yeah…this gives me an idear.

As with most situations involving me and editorial graphics, fortune intervened to cut the knot. Hallelujah: there was another Coast Guard database that I could use. And it had distinct advantages:

  1. It tracks chemical and oil spills specifically. Incidents of that sort are included in the National Response Center data set, but it’s more of a giant pollution clearinghouse and thus cluttered with wacky stuff. Exhibit A: someone called the government to tell them a mercury thermometer broke.

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  2. Instead of locating the incidents by address, they have latitude and longitude columns! No desperate shitfights with geocoding confidence levels! Just beautiful decimals! Deliverance! Praise to William Harrison!

Now I had more data, in a better format, with better documentation. By pure luck. Not a good strategy but one can’t argue with results. Anyway I knew I had to face the database music this time: Excel would choke and die on the 20mb TSVs I had to deal with. Again, lucky me, I’m blessed enough to have Toph Tucker at my elbow, a true Phaeacian who could be relied on to provide deep sighs and plenty of “you forgot the semicolon again”s.

I loaded my tab-delimited text files into a MySQL database using SequelPro (great product) and got to querying. Being a neophyte, this naturally took a while, so we’ll skim over my troubles here. With Toph’s help I was able to format queries to retrieve oil spills that a) actually involved petroleum products b) involved them in some non-picayune quantity and c) had lat/longs associated with them.

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After all sorts of false starts and late nights, I ended up with a spreadsheet that included all oil spills from ships, facilities, pipelines and random dumpage, of petroleum products, of 1,000 gallons or more, from 1973 through May 2013. That’s a winnowing of ~600,000 rows down to ~4,300.

Time to get plotting, right? Not so fast: while most of the rows had decimal lat/longs, some had this N25456 E055186 nonsense. C’mon son. Some Excel magic remedied that:

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And I had my final output, looking damn fine if I do say so myself.

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CartoDB was used for the public-facing interactive map, but also proved invaluable at this stage because it’s so easy to prototype with. I could upload my master spreadsheet and within seconds see where the clusters were, what the data looked like as scaled circles, if any lat/longs ended up in the middle of Greenland, etc. Anything that minimizes the time spent futzing in MAPublisher is good in my book, a regular Aeolian wind bag (the Odyssey? Eh? Cute huh?).

The rest was relatively easy window dressing: major oil ports and pipelines came from the EIA, major commercial waterways came from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The usual MAPublisher nightmares ensued, but I was on familiar territory for once:

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The map’s foundation was poured, so it was time to sift arcane spill remediation PDFs and conduct some interviews. My mother always told me “journalists make phone calls” so I rang up Dr. Jeff Short and the nice folks at the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.

After the callouts were written and bones of the map were set, it was time to recruit the best art directors on the continent: Cynthia Hoffman and Chris Nosenzo. To demonstrate their talent I placed the first draft next to the final.

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From assey to classy in only 30 drafts. I lost the geographic literalism that I began with, which bummed me out since I get real sweaty whenever I get to go all National Geographic carto on a project, but in the end the reader won out. Cindy and Chris tuned up the colors, fixed my type hierarchy, got some cuter illos, and a two-page spread was born. Honey I’m home clean your room Telemachus har har har har.

The final product, loud and proud←

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Next came the interactive map, which thanks to CartoDB, was mostly finished! CartoCSS made it trivial to match the magazine’s color and line weight styles, but the combination of tiles and vector symbol scaling did not sit well with CartoDB:

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No matter what I did, the Deepwater Horizon circle was too damn big to render properly. And to get the jump on any pedants, yes I remembered to do the square root thing. Anyway Cindy had the idea of saying “screw it” to the circle scaling, which looks better anyway:

Et voila. As a beautiful coda, Toph made a mobile-optimized teaser. I couldn’t begin to tell you how he did it. Go ask him.

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Until the next graphics nightmare,
Evan Applegate • on twitter • on tumblr

ONE  MORE  THING

Oh so you think you could have done better? Is that right, punk?? Well be my guest, make a better map! Seriously please do, Businessweek is hiring an editorial cartographer. Come map for us and spare my poor editors and art directors the goofery detailed above.

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Last week I was asked to do a cover illustration for Bloomberg Businessweek, for an article on Monsanto and the business of GMO’s.  Creative director Robert Vargas wanted something almost creepily cheery, with tons of oversized fruits and vegetables.  Ultimately, they went with a different design, but he and I were pleased with the outcome, and I feel honored to have been given the assignment nonetheless.

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