An Arctic Heatwave

Since Christmas was just yesterday, I figured this would be an appropriate way to start the week. The North Pole is sweltering. It’s melting. But, seriously, the scientists are “very confident” that the heatwave is linked to anthropogenic climate change. Their models cannot replicate their observations without adding an anthropogenic signal.

Anthropogenic? That’s just a fancy-sounding word for man-made.

Arctic heatwave
Arctic heatwave

Credit for the original piece goes to the University of Maine and Climateanalyzer.org.

The United States of Blank

Well, you made it to the Christmas holidays. First, some housekeeping, my posting next week might be a bit sporadic. Not that it hasn’t been sporadic the last few months.

Second, it’s a Friday, so let’s take a look at that federal republic of states we talked about yesterday. According to xkcd, of course.

The fifty states plus DC
The fifty states plus DC

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

The Federal Funds Rate

In my new role as data visualisation manager at the Philadelphia Federal Reserve, I am learning a lot about what the Fed does and how it does it. Needless to say, this piece from Bloomberg interested me as it displayed how the federal funds rate has changed over time.

How this potential hike cycle would compare to the two previous
How this potential hike cycle would compare to the two previous

What I really enjoy is how they colour-coded the two previous hiking cycles as well as what I think everyone presumes will be a new one. And those colours then move on down the piece into the dot plots. The dot plots show various potential factors in the decision-making process, and just how far off the current hiking cycle is from the two previous.

Credit for the piece goes to Chloe Whiteaker, Jeremy Scott Diamond, and Jeanna Smialek.

Capturing a US Navy Drone Submersible

Last Friday China seized a US Navy submersible drone—like the drones the Air Force uses but for underwater purposes—in international waters off the coast of the Philippines. This graphic from the Washington Post shows how, while in international waters, the seizure occurred not far outside China’s Nine-dash Line, which they claim as territorial waters.

Where we lost our drone (to China)
Where we lost our drone (to China)

Credit for the piece goes to the Washington Post graphics department.

The Electoral College

Well today we elect the president of the United States. Wait! you say, did we not just do that a few weeks ago?

Not really, no.

In the run up to the election, I and others saw the possibility that this election could result in a gap between the national popular vote and the electoral college vote. And people think that unfair. Consequently I decided to start working on a series of graphics to help explain the system. But before I could finish, the Washington Post published this piece that I think does a strong job. So, I am going to point you there instead.

The United States is not a democracy, but a federal, democratic republic. Though that may smack of wordsmithery, it is an important distinction. We are a democratic republic in that we elect people to represent us, we do not directly vote on matters of government. And then that federal bit. The United States was formed by sovereign states, i.e. the colonies and other independent republics like Texas and (sort of) California. Others were territories belong to sovereign states that we acquired through negotiation, e.g. the Louisiana territory and Florida. In short, the United States is not a unitary state ruled by an all-powerful central government. The central government only has the authority granted to it by the states and territories entering the union.

States are intended to be equal, but the democratic republic bit means the people need to have their say. So the federal House of Representatives gets a set number of seats divided proportionally by population (as determined by the US Census) while the Senate represents all states equally with senators. The House is elected by the people every two years and thus is more in tune with national public sentiment. The Senate serves as the more deliberative body tempering perhaps overly reactionary House legislation. It also serves to represent the interests of the state governments. Initially, you did not even vote for senators. Those were chosen by your state governments, often the state legislature. (I will save that topic for another day.)

The electoral college of 538 members comes from each state’s House delegation and its two senators. And because this is a federal, i.e. state-led, republic, each state determines how to divvy up their votes. Most states do winner-take-all. Two, Maine and Nebraska, allocate them based on who wins the House districts and then an additional two (from the number of senators) to the overall state winner.

That very complicated system was designed to ensure that states with smaller populations are not summarily outvoted and overruled by the largest of states. This initially helped the smaller states in the Northeast like Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Delaware, but also the slave states like Georgia. In 2016, this means that the states of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains receive overrepresentation at the expense of the larger states like California, Texas, New York, and even my Pennsylvania.

The graphics from the Washington Post do a great job of showing not just how states today are over- or under-represented, but how that has changed since 1960. That is an important date given the Voting Rights Act that attempted to break down systemic injustices against minorities, particular blacks, in elections.

This small multiple map of the United States shows representation changes over time. Really well done.
This small multiple map of the United States shows representation changes over time. Really well done.

Is the electoral college “fair”? If this was a unitary republic, no. I doubt anyone would or could argue that point. But the United States is not and was not meant to be a unitary republic. We are a collection of sovereign states that grant power to a federal government. So in that sense, the electoral college is a fair, albeit not perfect, system that seeks to reallocate electoral power from high population states to low population states.

Credit for the piece goes to Denise Lu.

Mapping the Country’s Brain Drain

Alternatively known as the zombie food map. Sorry, but I couldn’t resist that one. Today we look at a piece from Bloomberg that maps brain drain across the country. What is brain drain? Basically it is the exodus of people with advanced degrees and education employed in science-y industries and fields. So this map shows us where the brains are moving from and where they are moving to.

Zombies, pay heed for feeding zones
Zombies, pay heed for feeding zones

Credit for the piece goes to Vincent Del Giudice and Wei Lu.

Escaping—or Not—from the Oakland Fire

A few weeks back a fire raged through a communal, creative warehouse in Oakland. The fire claimed the lives of over thirty people. But why? We have the New York Times behind this piece which attempts to explain just what happened that night through a nice mixture of diagrammatic illustrations and photography.

This is one reason why we try to clearly signal fire exits
This is one reason why we try to clearly signal fire exits

Credit for the piece goes to Ford Fessenden and Anjali Singhvi.

Income Inequality

On the lighter side of things we have today’s post on income inequality. Always a lighter subject, no? Thanks to Jonathan Fairman for the link.

Herwig Scherabon designed the Atlas of Gentrification as a project at the Glasgow School of Art and it was picked up by Creative Review. It displays income as height and so creates a new cityscape of skyscrapers for the wealthy and leaves lower income residents looking straight up. His work covered the US cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The image below is of Chicago. I probably was living in a cluster of mid-rise buildings despite living in a five-story building.

A look at Chicago
A look at Chicago

Credit for the piece goes to Herwig Scherabon.