US Trade Balance

The US imports a lot. But it does not export quite as much. The difference between those two figures is what is known as the balance of trade. Quartz looks at the US balance of trade not at an overall level, but between individual countries.

US Balance of Trade
US Balance of Trade

This is not one of my favourite pieces. For starters, while the overall figures are in the accompanying text, it would be useful to include total US imports and exports alongside the graphic as a point of reference.

Secondly, a long-standing issue I have is area comparisons. Sometimes they are needed and useful, a good example is a tree map. But in this piece, the circles do not add up to a recognisable whole. They also do not help when looking at individual countries and their historical trade values. A dotted outline of a circle shows the previous year’s trade. But more often than not, the trade level was so similar that the circles nearly overlap exactly.

The grouping and highlighting functionality hints at a useful application to explore US trade data, but the clumsiness of the circles renders that usefulness moot. .

Credit for the piece goes to David Yanofsky.

Wealth Inequality in the United States

Reality is never what you think. Over at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog I found a post about a YouTube video looking at wealth inequality in the United States. It looks at a study that compared what Americans thought the distribution of wealth in the United States is vs. what they think is an ideal distribution. And then the video compares that to the actual distribution.

The video is rather solid and does a fairly good job at explaining its point. And those unsure about wealth inequality and how it is different from and sometimes more meaningful than income inequality should read the post along with the video.

Wealth inequality
Wealth inequality

Credit for the video goes to a YouTube user named Politizane.

Analysing Amtrak

The Brookings Institution released a report investigating the ridership of Amtrak’s various routes in an attempt to identify ways of cutting costs. They also released an interactive piece along with the report that pairs a map with a simple table.

Highlighting a route in the table highlights the route in the map and links the two together for the user. Clicking a dot on the map shows the details for the metropolitan area ridership along with the total number of stations. Lastly, because the table is sortable, the user can identify for themselves the conclusion reached by the report. To become solvent, Amtrak should divest itself of its long-haul routes that run at significant losses and focus on the profitable routes that could subsidise the popular though still minor loss-making routes.

Amtrak routes with the Northeast Regional highlighted
Amtrak routes with the Northeast Regional highlighted

Credit for the piece goes to Alec Friedhoff.

The United States Compared to the Rest of the World

Have you ever wondered how big the United States is? MAPfrappe allows you to compare different geographies in Google Maps.

My employer has an office in Chicago and an office in Santiago, Chile. How big is Chile? North-to-south it is quite large. But east to west, the distance is like that of driving from Chicago to Detroit.

The United States compared to Chile
The United States compared to Chile

Via BuzzFeed.

Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela

Hugo Chávez died yesterday. He was a controversial president to be certain. Some claim he was a dictator who tolerated no opposition. But he won four elections. Some claim he helped reduce poverty and ease the suffering of the poor. But he eviscerated the middle class and private enterprise. And he has left Venezuela in a precarious situation.

With only several hours’ time to research, design, and create this infographic, I can only offer a brief overview of the Venezuela that Chávez took under his stewardship in 1999 as compared to Venezuela today. But it’s a better starting place for the dialogue than nowhere.

Click for the full image.

Venezuela under Chávez
Venezuela under Chávez

Understanding Modern China

China is a big country, both geographically and demographically. It can also be rather opaque and difficult for an outsider to understand. So this recent work from Reuters is amazing because it makes China a bit more transparent while illustrating just how the political system structures power and personnel appointments.

The table of contents/introduction
The table of contents/introduction

Truthfully, there is more content there than ought to be consolidated into a single blog post here. Briefly, the project was some 18 months in development and hits upon three key areas: Social Power, Institutional Power, and Career Comparisons. Two other sections, China 101 and Featured Stories, offer additional material to help the user understand China’s past and what is going on in the present.

Social Power with Xi Jinping's network shown
Social Power with Xi Jinping's network shown

Social Power examines, primarily through the use of network diagrams, the social dynamics of the upper echelons of the Chinese leadership. Previous generations of Chinese political leaders saw power confined into the hands of a few, e.g. Mao Tse-tung, but in recent years the Chinese Communist Power has decentralised that power into several individuals. Many of those individuals have friendships, marriages, and business relationships that have advanced them and kept them in power. The interactivity allows the user to dive deep into these relationships. And should things becoming confusing, here and throughout the app, there are links to biographies, definitions, and guides to explain what is before the user.

Institutional Power
Institutional Power

Institutional Power roughly compares to a look at the American system of checks and balances. The responsibility of governing China falls to three “branches”: the Communist Party, the Chinese government, and the People’s Liberation Army (under which the navy and air force fall, e.g. the People’s Liberation Army Navy). This section of the app lists who belongs to each post or group and how that post or group falls into the broader structure of the Party, Government, or PLA.

Career Comparison with the guide open
Career Comparison with the guide open

The Career Comparison shows the different—but not really—tracks taken by the leaders of China. The user can compare individuals both present and past, along with potential future players, to see their route to power. China’s political system, because of its arguably undemocratic nature, is different from that of the United States. The path to power is longer and more established in China, as this section clearly shows.

As aforementioned the app was designed over 18 months and was optimised for the iPad 2+ and modern browsers (especially Chrome and Safari). All in all, a stellar piece of work. Design and development credits go to Fathom Interactive Design. The credits listed in the About section are as follows:

EDITOR+PROJECT LEADER: Irene Jay Liu
PRODUCTION HEADS: Yolanda Ma, Malik Yusuf
LEAD WRITER: Chris Ip
COPY EDITOR: John Newland
DESIGN+DEV: Fathom Information Design

Catholics and Cardinals

As the conclave in Rome is almost ready to begin, likely sometime next week, cardinals are gathering in Rome to discuss the affairs of the Catholic Church and then elect a new pope from within their ranks. Many outsiders talk about the time for a pope from outside of Europe, that the papacy has been an office for Europeans—namely Italians—for too long.

However, the preponderance of Catholics outside of Europe is, in the 2000-year history of the Church, a relatively recent phenomenon. Explosive growth in Latin America, Africa, and Asia combined with a decline in European Catholics means that it is only in the last few decades that Europeans have fallen from being nearly 2/3 of the global Catholic Church.

As my infographic attempts to explain, despite this demographic shift, the early Catholic Church chose popes from the distant corners of its territory before it contracted. That historical consolidation in Europe—Italy in particular—has led, however, to a disproportionate weight of cardinal electors, i.e. the cardinals who elect the pope, in favour of Italy and Europe. And as the cardinals typically choose from among their own, it is far more likely that the next pope will come from Europe if not Italy.

Click the image to see the full-sized graphic.

Catholic demographics and share of the cardinals
Catholic demographics and share of the cardinals

Budget Sequestration and US Austerity

First things first, the verb is to sequester. The noun is sequestration. 1 March is not when the sequester begins. It is when the sequestration begins.

Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, much is made of high government spending relative to revenue. However, this conversation still misses the point that government spending has fallen significantly. The New York Times charted that recent fall in spending in this graphic. This contraction is the largest drop in over 50 years. Along with the bars indicating recessions, I perhaps would have indicated major US military conflicts given the emphasis the introduction places on those events.

Government spending
Government spending

The piece also looks at government employment, which has been atypically lower than pre-recessionary figures. Taken in sum, the two sets of data point to an extant condition of austerity that shall only be worsened by…c’mon everyone…that’s right, the sequestration.

Credit for the piece goes to Alicia Parlapiano.

Historical Chicago Snowfall

Snow should fall upon Chicago this afternoon and it may measure up to a few inches in depth. But much of this winter has been below average. And that is much the same from last year when snowfall did not even reach 20 inches.

I went through NOAA data to look at the last decade of monthly snowfall to see just how little snow has fallen this winter. (Not a lot.) And then I looked at the entirety of the NOAA records to see where 2011/2 fit in the span of winters. (One of the least snowy.) This graphic is the result.

Historical Chicago Snowfall
Historical Chicago Snowfall

Setting Up a Snowstorm

This weekend I researched meteorological data for a graphic that I will post tomorrow. But in doing that research I came across a series of weather infographics from WGN that are better than the average. The one below details the snowstorm due to impact the Chicago area and how it will form (along with the storm that brought a few inches of snow last week).

The setup for this week's snowstorm in Chicago
The setup for this week's snowstorm in Chicago

Credit for the piece goes to Jennifer Kohnke and Faye Shanti.