Troop Levels in Iraq

A few days ago, President Obama announced that all but perhaps 150 US troops in Iraq would be home before 1 Jan 2012. While the mission may have been accomplished over 8 years ago, we are finally seeing an end to the Iraq War.

Both the BBC and the New York Times created charts to show the strength of US forces in Iraq since the start of the war up until the end—the New York Times also compares these to troop levels in Afghanistan where we have a new ‘surge’ of troops.

The two are slightly different. The first from the New York Times is an interactive piece that allows you to mouse over each bar and access the actual number of troops present in Iraq that month. The bars are spaced tightly together with only the necessary gap to break apart years and provide the vertical scale.

New York Times chart
New York Times chart

The BBC piece is a static image with no interaction. I do not care for the clustering of years, it breaks the visual rhythm of the piece and interrupts the story. I think in the design of the piece that the New York Times has the better and more effective chart. However, where the BBC truly succeeds is in offering bits of explanation for changes in the chart.

BBC chart
BBC chart

One might think that the war lasted several years with periods of great battles and great troop losses because the  number of soldiers stays roughly at 140 thousand. But the text lets us know otherwise. The first is obvious, the war begins. But it progresses to things like the declaring of mission accomplished, the surge, and when US troops left Iraqi cities.

These are not difficult pieces of analysis, nor do they require much investigatory journalism, but they provide the context that allows the chart to tell the story in its numbers.

Riding the Rail to London?

Long time readers know by now that I advocate high-speed rail and similar transport infrastructure investment. The following screenshot was taken from a BBC News video about the Russian proposal to build an underground passenger/freight tunnel beneath the Bering Strait to connect eastern Siberia to Alaska.

Screenshot from the video explaining the plan
Screenshot from the video explaining the plan

The video is not an infographic, strictly speaking, but as a motion graphic it depicts the routes needed and compares the length of the proposed tunnel to that of the Chunnel, the tunnel beneath the English Channel. Back in August the Daily Mail also reported on the story and provided the following map showing how exactly the system would then link the Eastern Hemisphere to the Western Hemisphere.

Map of the Proposed Route
Map of the Proposed Route

Of course the big questions that remain are can Russia afford to build the tunnel, will the United States build the rails necessary to link it to the main US–Canadian rail network, and would anyone really use it?

The Greek Tragedy

The Euro…yeah, that pesky bugger and all of the complications it is causing for the European Union at the moment. In July, the BBC released this animation explaining the Greek debt crisis. It’s worth a check, though some of the graphics could use improvement…like the one using scaled buildings in a bar chart.

10 year interest rates compared, from the animation
10 year interest rates compared, from the animation

Critically for US readers, who have to put up with all this talk about how we cannot run a deficit, pay close attention to the bit about lenders. Deficits are not expensive until interest rates go up. And they only go up when lenders fear the inability of a government to repay its loans.

Glaciers Aren’t So Slow After All…

Antarctica is a continent way down at the southern end of the world. It is covered almost entirely by glaciers. But glaciers move, and NASA and the University of California unveiled a map looking at the speed of the glaciers’ movements. Along with it, an interesting little video showing the tributaries to the glacial flow.

Glacial Flow Map
Glacial Flow Map

from the BBC.

Back in the USSR

So, those of you a little bit older than me—not to date myself—probably remember the evil Reds of Soviet Russia. Some my age do as well. Younger than me, it’s probably all ancient history. And so for those of you who forget, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was, if I am to simplify, a Russian empire that featured a centralised, command and control economy and a dictatorial government. In 1991, the empire fell apart for a number of reasons and became 15 independent countries, Russia still being the largest. And a lot has happened in the twenty years between 1991 and 2011.

Twenty years being a long time, the BBC has remembered the event by creating a relatively simple piece that compares the fates of the various countries in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s breakup. One takes one drop-down list and selects a country and then another country from the other list. And in the centre one can control whether the comparison is of wealth (GDP), health (life expectancy), or leadership (no. of times the presidency has changed hands).

Comparing Russia to the Ukraine
Comparing Russia to the Ukraine

I have an issue with some of the metrics and whether they are the best suited to describe the wealth, health, and democracy of the former Soviet republics. But, I think the strength really is not so much the charts but the brief summaries for each country that try to capture the story of the past two decades.

The Failure of Watertight Bulkheads

RMS Titanic launched 100 years ago today in Belfast, where the anniversary was marked all these years later and the BBC covered it. In a related article, the BBC looked at why people celebrate a ship that had such a brief and tragic history, in which there was this small little graphic illustrating the failure of the watertight bulkheads.

Failure of the watertight bulkheads
Failure of the watertight bulkheads

Everybody Wants to Rule the (Top of the) World

To the victors go the spoils of war. Often unheralded of course is the spoil of drawing the new map. But, in and among the Himalayas, the territory of Jammu and Kashmir is yet to be won decisively by any side. Look at 1947, 1965, and 1999, we still have the territory contested and different parts controlled by different countries.

The current boundaries in Kashmir
The current boundaries in Kashmir

The Economist, noting the potential flashpoint, created an interactive map to highlight the region and the situation, wherein one can view the different claims and how they overlap. Nothing particularly fancy, but it need not be to clearly communicate the fact that Jammu and Kashmir is mess of the most sovereign order.

However, the interesting bit of the story is how in India the government, which claims the entirety of the territory, censored the print-edition of the Economist wherein the conflicting claims and current lines-of-control were drawn with a sticker because the map was incorrect, to use the BBC’s word, as it showed the region divided between India, Pakistan, and China.

Note here the Pakistani claim versus the Indian claim—I shall leave you, the reader, to investigate the differences between the Chinese claim.

The Pakistani claim
The Pakistani claim
The Indian claim
The Indian claim

Obama and His Irishness

Ireland, the ancestral land of many Americans, can also be claimed by President Obama. His maternal great-great-great-grandfather was a shoemaker. The BBC created this graphic to complement their news article. And I must admit to being quietly amused at the % ‘Irishness’; Approximate label.

The Irishness of Obama
The Irishness of Obama

Royal Wedding Genealogy

If you have not heard, somebody in Britain is getting married…and of course that means explorations of royal blood lines and, well, non-royal bloodlines. So the BBC put together a small piece on Kate Middleton’s ancestry. So for those of you with any interest in charting family lines, here you go. The piece has some interactive features, clicking on the folks with little cameras provides a brief bio or story and a photo—though not necessarily of the individual.

Kate Middleton Ancestry
Kate Middleton Ancestry

Credit to the BBC.

Complex Nigeria

The BBC has a new feature on Nigeria, one of Africa’s most important—and most complicated—countries. And a few days ago it was supposed to hold elections. But these have been postponed, apparently on logistical problems. This piece attempts to explain the complexities of modern Nigeria across several different metrics via maps. Overall, it is very similar to a piece I mentioned that the BBC ran on South Sudan in the run up to that soon-to-be-country’s independence referendum.

Map of Nigeria by Various Metrics
Map of Nigeria by Various Metrics

Overall, the piece works for me as a means of quickly and broadly explaining the geographic breakdown of Nigeria in terms of ethnicity, politics, health, et cetera. The colours work, especially shifting between hues for the one-variable maps. The one thing that the Nigeria map adds over the Sudan map is the name of each state. However, these begin to become a bit cluttered and distracting—not to mention that in all-caps they sit at roughly the same level of the neighbouring country names despite being a touch smaller. Perhaps the maps could have been made to do more with less, and only label those states mentioned in the explanatory text. Or they could have been included but treated in a subtler fashion.