Politics Moves Further to the Extremes

In case you were wondering, yes, Virginia, politics in the United States are becoming more polarised. Olympia Snowe, the moderate Republican senator from Maine, is not running for re-election. And so the Senate is left without one more centrist counterweight to an extreme. To try and show how extreme, this graphic from the New York Times plots how often senators voted with their party.

Senators voting with their party
Senators voting with their party

While the chart does not have a marker for the average of each Congress, everyone can see the general trend line. Up. And up means less compromise. And less compromise means getting less done.

Fatal Passenger Train Derailment

Sunday afternoon in Burlington, Canada, a VIA passenger train—think Canada’s version of Amtrak—derailed shortly after switching tracks. The two engineers in the locomotive and their trainee died in the accident, which is still under investigation.

The National Post covered the story and included a few graphics to explain just what happened. Maps pointed out exactly where the train derailed. The graphic below details how a switch works for those unfamiliar with rail transport.

How rail switches work
How rail switches work

And lastly, a larger graphic attempts to explain what may have happened in lieu of the final accident report from the Canadian Transportation Safety Board.

How the derailment occured
How the derailment occured

Credit for the switches graphic goes to Andrew Barr and for the accident diagram credits go to Richard Johnson.

Examining the World’s Response to the Somalia Famine

Somalia is beset by a bevy of problems; from an Islamist insurgency that holds great swathes of the south, to the de facto independent regions of Somaliland and Puntland in the north, to the pirates operating off the coast, to the barely functional government in Mogadishu that controls only sections of the capital through the backing of an African Union peacekeeping force, to the recent famine that devastated the south of the country.

The famine, which ended formally ended only earlier this month, is the focus of an interactive piece by the Guardian. It examines how the tragedy unfolded, especially when early indicators pointed to the likelihood of a famine. Through a timeline, the piece marks out what happened when—probably important as not all readers may be familiar with the details of the disaster—atop a chart that visualises the aid given to Somalia. Other line charts describe who donated and when.

Timeline of the story and how that compares to donations
Timeline of the story and how that compares to donations

The most interesting, however, is an investigation into what (perhaps) spurred the donations. Using the same timeline as a common base, it charts when donations were made against mentions in six US and UK media outlets against Twitter mentions and Google Search Insights.

Donations overlap with media mentions
Donations overlap with media mentions

With this last bit in particular, the Guardian has attempted to use data visualisation to support an argument made in accompanying text. Often times data visualisation and infographics will simply document an event or provide facts and figures. Here, however, an attempt was made to link the aid effort to media coverage (90% of aid came to Somalia after the story broke in the media), perhaps to show causation. But, the writer admits that ultimately the visualisation can only show the overlap or correlation, which the writer further notes is itself consistent with academic debate over the existence of the “CNN effect”.

Credit for the piece goes to Claire Provost, Irene Ros, Nicola Hughes, and the Guardian Interactive Team.

And the Award Comes From…an Old White Male. Most Likely.

So apparently last night actors, directors, and others associated with the production of films won little statues. (And then probably celebrated with fancy foods and wines.) Yes, last night was the Academy Awards. But who is this Academy that decides upon the best films and performances?

As it turns out, the demographics of the Academy do not quite mirror those of the broader country. Just over a week ago, the Los Angeles Times looked at the Academy and visualised its membership, discovering the details of which was itself a journalistic feat.

The demographics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
The demographics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

After a broad overview with pie charts and such, each branch was mapped as a choropleth to the Los Angeles area. Those members from outside the LA metropolitan area were given small squares to represent their cities.

Where the actors live
Where the actors live

As someone not at all familiar with Los Angeles and its neighbourhoods, perhaps where the members of the various branches of the Academy live is actually somewhat interesting. However, I fail to understand the value in that. More useful is the idea of breaking out a socio-economic demographic and mapping that data. And if that had been the case here we almost have a set of small multiples. These are just a bit big.

Overall, a solid body of work.

Credit for the visualisation piece goes to Doug Smith, Robert Burns, Khang Nguyen, and Anthony Pesce.

Corporate Tax Rates

Part of the State of the Union was about the administration’s plan to lower the corporate tax rate while closing loopholes and ending subsidies. The goal is to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 28% without losing revenue.

Along with the New York Times article about the proposal the Times offers a graphic showing the amount of taxes paid by almost all members of the S&P 500. This includes local, state, federal, and foreign taxes and over earnings from 2005 to 2010. The visualisation is a simple dot plot showing the distribution of tax rates for the various companies, grouped into economic sectors.

Corporate tax rates for the S&P 500
Corporate tax rates for the S&P 500

Tsunami Debris

We are coming upon the date when a year ago an earthquake and its subsequent tsunami devastated Japan. As the wave rushed over land it ripped up and destroyed whole villages. Most of the debris remained scattered across the Japanese landscape, but as the water receded some was inevitably swept back out to sea.

The International Pacific Research Center has released a model of where any floating debris—a good amount is presumed to have sank by now—may have been carried by the ocean’s currents.

Path of the tsunami debris
Path of the tsunami debris

via the BBC.

What Philadelphians Think About Philadelphia

Yo, Philly, apparently Pew did a survey on what Philadelphians think about Philadelphia. And what better way to talk about a survey than through an infographic. So thanks to the Inquirer, that is what we have.

Philadelphians on Philadelphia
Philadelphians on Philadelphia

The interesting bit is that while there is a black-and-white, presumably print version, the website broke the whole graphic into its components and made them larger for web viewing. But, if you look at this example from the segment on immigration and diversity, they ought to have left colour alone. The two segments Bad Thing and No Difference use the same colour when they clearly do not mean the same thing. The black-and-white version keeps those two as separate greys.

Survey results on immigrants and diversity
Survey results on immigrants and diversity

Credit for the piece goes to John Tierno.

Presidential Popularity

Presidents’ Day is actually Washington’s Birthday. That makes sense when you consider how Washington is still a much beloved president. And according to a recent survey, the most favoured president.

Presidential Popularity
Presidential Popularity

What is worth nothing is that most Americans know little of the 19th century presidents, save the big names like Lincoln, Grant, and (Teddy) Roosevelt. Not until the other Roosevelt (FDR) do we start seeing a decline in “Not Sure” responses. But, by far, Washington and Lincoln are the most favoured presidents.

The questions for all of us on this holiday are who’s your favourite? And how does he stack up? (Get it? Eh, chart humour.)

The Crisis in Syria

The crisis in Syria now resembles more of a civil war. The UN General Assembly has condemned the conflict and passed a resolution calling for Bashar al-Assad to step aside along with a host of other steps to resolve the conflict. However, nothing can happen until the Security Council agrees on a measure, which is still unlikely given the previous vetoes by China and Russia.

This piece from the Guardian chronologically explains what has been happening—at least as best as can be determined in the not-so-media-friendly country. As this story focuses on dates and places, a map feels natural. The designers have added some crucial details from the backstory about the ethnic complexities of the country and denoted the larger and more important urban centres.

An overview of Syria
An overview of Syria

When one clicks on a date, coloured by what part of the story is taking place, markers with text boxes overlay the original city markers and provide the user information on what happened in that city on that date. Or, if the event is more general, the box appears outside the borders.

Syria on 9 Feb 2012
Syria on 9 Feb 2012

The interface is rather simple, but works in focusing a person in on a time. Unfortunately, since much of this story can be seen through the lens of locale, e.g. the city of Homs has borne the brunt of al-Assad’s wrath, one cannot focus in on a place and then add time. For example, clicking on the marker for Homs and then seeing a chronological list of events that occurred there would also be quite useful.

Another slight improvement would be more clearly signifying the date being viewed. It does appear in the text box, but with the visual prominence of the main navigation at the top, on a few occasions when I was going through the piece, I did forget what date I was on and had brief moments of confusion.