U.S. Taxes and GIS

April 15, 2013 is Tax Day in the U.S. when state and federal taxes are due to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or state tax offices. By it’s very nature, taxation is highly geospatial. According to an article on the history of U.S. property tax in The Assessment Journal, property taxation has existed in the U.S. in basically the same form since colonial days because of “the relative ease with which land and  buildings can be located and identified, and their stability over time”. It continues to be the largest single source of autonomous local revenue for most cities and towns. President Lincoln passed the Revenue Act of 1861, during the Civil War Congress, but it  wasn’t official until the Revenue Act of 1913 was signed by President Woodrow Wilson on Oct. 3, 1913 as part of the 16h Amendment, making the Internal Revenue Code 100 years old.

 

While being a property tax assessor is still a field work heavy job, in the past several years, many local municipalities are moving towards interactive maps,  computer assisted mass appraisal for property taxes and online tax maps.  Residents have come to expect to be able to access tax parcel viewers, but moving to an online system, like many municipal projects, takes time and money. Many county assessors are becoming expected to have GIS skills and training. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics most appraisers and assessors have an associate or bachelor’s degree, must be certified by their state, and earn about $50,000/yr. In 1913, an assessors salary couldn’t exceed five cents for every $1,000 appraised, according to A Treatise on the Federal Income Tax under the Act of 1913.

Epidemiology, GIS, and Portwenn

I only recently started to watch reruns of Doc Martin on Hulu. The show is about a gruff London surgeon who relocates to the picture book seaside village of Portwenn, Cornwall. Like many seaside towns, the fictional village relies on tourism and fishing for most of its revenue, which makes its reliance on a single doctor to handle track down health outbreaks on a fairly regular basis surprising. In one specific episode (Season 1, Episode 3) entitled “Sh*t Happens” a virus hits Portwenn that the doctor assumes is caused by the community swimming pool, which he announces on the radio and tries to close down before finding out that it originates from someone selling contaminated bottled water. Considering how many outbreaks of various ailments happen on the show, it is surprising that even after this event he never calls a public health official or has an epidemiologist on speed dial.

Anyone who has worked in local government, public health, or other fields that interact with the public will recognize the realistic situation of dealing with a virus or other event that impacts the public health. These situations usually must be handled quickly with a lack of information that makes analyzing the situation difficult. However, they are usually addressed collaboratively with the help of medical staff, state and local government, public health officials, and schools, many times using GIS.

I was therefore relieved to find that in the real world setting of Port Isaac (Port Wenn) there is more than one doctor to handle emergencies. In fact, the Port Isaac Practice, which has been in existence since the 1940’s,  has a Primary Care Health Team including seven doctors, practice nurses, community nurses and other vital personnel.  The South West Peninsula Health Protection Unit, Cornwall Council and the Environment Agency have worked together to create handbooks such as the “Viral Gastroenteritis (Norovirus) Outbreak Guidance for Caravan and Campsites“. While the Combined Universities in Cornwall has several epidemiology professors on staff.

The “Sh*t Happens”  episode would be a great one to use in a geography, geospatial, or public health class when covering the work of John Snow. It demonstrates that because of the work of epidemiologists and other geospatial analysts, doctors no longer have to tackle community outbreaks alone. Doc Martin is enjoyable and it is good that he isn’t  portrayed as a super star epidemiologist. It would be nice for the fictional Portwenn, and the doctor himself, if he had as much support as the real life Port Isaac.

 

The Geography of Abortion Access in the US

Obviously abortion is a hot button topic in the United States. It has become even more so with the recent passing of the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that largely made it legal in the US. I won’t touch the political bent to this with a 10′ scale bar, but I do think it always helps to know the geography of the landscape, no matter your bent on an issue. The Daily Beast has a nice interactive map that shows access points and driving times for women to reach those points. You can even turn on a layer showing the female population over 15. As you mouse over the map to different clinics, the map reports the driving times for a radius from that point, and it reports the legal constraints of that particular state, as they vary greatly from state to state. If you want to see a more holistic view of those restrictions, you can click on the buttons on the left to see layers showing things like average wait times, ultrasound restrictions, or insurance issues. Again, no comment on the political issue itself, but I think it is important to be aware of the landscape.

Via io9.com.

Geospatial Grocery Store

The Telegraph recently published an article, “How Supermarkets Prop Up Our Class System” by Harry Wallop introducing his book “Consumed: How Shopping Fed the Class System“. In the article, he discusses how marketers use census data and other location based data to aggregate postcodes into 60 different social groupings that they then repackage and sell back to retailers who use the analysis to micro-target potential shoppers. He believes that instead of creating more opportunities for shoppers, spatial targeting is reinforcing class stereotypes and creating structural inequality.

Geospatial marketing for supermarkets and grocery stores is growing in popularity for industry and public health. The Food Trust documented how Pennsylvania is using geospatial and GIS to target underserved communities for Penn State Public Broadcasting’s Geospatial Revolution Project.  Job search databases advertise for positions such as geospatial marketing facilitator, interactive marketer, and geospatial marketing analyst.  The Shopper Marketing trade journal lists mobile applications, QR codes, location based shopping, and augmented reality among the trends it uses to both reach and collect data from shoppers.

In today’s society it is difficult for shoppers to take advantage of grocery deals without providing personal information. A LifeHacker article on saving money, “Use “Jenny’s Number” to Get Club Discounts at Stores without Providing Personal Information” jokingly suggested trying to use the phone number from the popular 80’s song. Which semi-seriously raises the question of which social grouping the people who provide her number would fall under or how many shoppers give fake geospatial data.

AP Human Geography and Environmental Science

The AP (Advanced Placement) College Board has announced that it particularly needs AP Exam readers to score AP Human Geography and Environmental Science exams. Their website states that, “Each June, AP teachers and college faculty members from around the world gather in the United States to evaluate and score the free-response sections of the AP Exams.” In 2012 more than 11,00 readers participated, receiving an honorarium, travel expenses, and in some cases continuing education units.

The purpose of an AP exam is to provide college credit and advanced placement for high school students entering college. According to the AP website, AP placement helps students to qualify for college scholarships. The advanced placement exam for Human Geography uses the National Geography Standards with an emphasis on spatial analysis. They provide course descriptions and practice exams, which would be challenging for many geographers.  The advanced placement exam for Environmental Science is interdisciplinary and includes many elements of the geosciences. They provide an Environmental Science course description and practice exam with questions about physical geography.

For students planning to take the AP Human Geography or Environmental Science exams, there are many practice exams and study guides available in book, website, and even web app format.  The Human Geography exam takes over 2 hours and includes a 75 minute written exam section. Last year, one of the questions  was to identify three examples of walls or other barriers built by countries in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Good Luck! to all students studying for the upcoming AP exams.

Forever Wild

The National Endowment for the Humanities and SUNY Cortland is accepting applications for two one week workshops at the Great Camps of the Adirondacks exploring the Gilded Age of America and it’s wilderness called “Forever Wild” Workshop.  According to their website, it is open to a diverse group of interdisciplinary and mixed grade level educators from teachers, librarians at any type of school, including home schooling parents. Applications are due by March 4, 2013.  Attendees will be some  of the first educators to also have the opportunity to visit Great Camps Sagamore and Uncas. SUNY at Cortland owns Camp Huntington, where the workshop will take place.

The schedule for the week includes topic areas that are geography or geospatial related. This includes discussions of urban versus rural landscapes, a seaplane ride of the Adirondack’s geography, and explorations of how industrialists used their space. There are also opportunities to integrate geospatial technologies into a group digital stories teaching project and other project development. Although it isn’t specifically stated on the website, educators and librarians with a geography background would be a great addition to the group participants at the workshop.

Google Adds Amber Alerts to Maps and Search Results

Google has started adding Amber Alerts to its map and search results. They’re doing this through a partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Basically, they’re combining the local search information with NCMEC’s Amber Alert system. It should include any descriptive information and how to contact the system if you happen to know anything about the missing child.

It’s good to see companies using their technology to help communities and I hope other companies help these efforts in any way possible.

Scientists Convicted of Manslaughter for Failing To Predict Earthquake

We’ve been following this news item for some time, and I have to say I, for one, never dreamed these scientists would be convicted. An Italian judge has decided six scientists and one government official are criminally negligent for failing to predict the L’Aquila earthquake. They face up to 6 years in jail for their actions. The judge was quick to point out the verdict isn’t based so much on the lack of prediction as their failure to adequate phrase their warnings in a sufficiently alarming way. It isn’t too much of a stretch to say this is going to have a drastically chilling impact on scientific reporting, particularly in Italy. I’d like to say something hopeful out of this, but frankly it is all quit too depressing.

Americans Use A Lot of Gas

There’s so much going on with this article in Jalopnik that I love. Let me break it down for you in rough order. First…. cars and geography and we all know how I feel about those. Second, the point of the article, which is to show we use a lot of gas in the US. But those are just the superficial, kinda uninteresting bits, especially to geographers.

The really cool part for me rests in a two things. This is an excellent example of how to lie with maps, or at least deceive. We know the US uses a lot of gas, but where and why is a bit of a mystery. One theory is the ‘fly over’ states tend to have older and less efficient cars and most importantly trucks. Furthermore, they tend to drive greater distances because they’re more spread out than an urban area like NY or LA. If you use the swipe bar in the middle (more on that in a second), you can flip between two views of the data. The left map shows annual gallons of gas used per capita and it clearly shows the middle of the country is the worst offenders. Again, the efficiency plus distances would make sense for the average person to use more gas than someone in an urban or suburban environment. However, the picture changes dramatically when you look at the map on the right. Here we see not per capita use, but total use, and it’s the more urban areas that tend to be the worst offenders. As Jalopnik points out in the text, the math is pretty clear – it’s because there’s more people. Even if a large number of people only drive a short distance in highly efficient cars they can still use a lot more gas per year than a small number driving large distances with inefficient cars. So how do you lower gas use? Thus far the focus has been upon fuel efficiency standards, but it looks like that might not be the only approach to take to tackle the problem. I just love the idea you can look at the same data totally differently and get a completely different compelling argument. It’s kinda awesome, I think.

And to round it out, the final really cool thing about this post is the great use of a swipe for displaying two maps. We use it a lot in our professional work as GISers, but I’d love to see more use like this ‘in the wild’ so to speak. It’s such a compelling way to present counter arguments just like this.