The Rising Tide of Jihadist Violence in Africa

The other day somebody mentioned to me that Africa is big, to which I agreed. It is big. It contains, depending upon how you count, about 55 countries and over one billion people. It stretches from Mediterranean climates and deserts in the north to rainforests around the equator and then back down through steppe climates to the southern coast of South Africa.

But in that vast territory also comes jihadist violence, and in this article by the Economist, it points out that despite that vastness, the violence can be found in two main areas: first, along the Mediterranean coast and, second, along the Sahel and savannah.

At least it's not spiking?
At least it’s not spiking?

The map uses dots to nice effect here, pinpointing the actual locations of violence and then providing additional detail by colouring the dots according to the perpetrators of the violence. But what I really enjoyed was the simple effect of tying together the dot colours to the stacked area chart in the lower left. It shows the number of people killer per year. And while significantly up from 2010, at least the number of people killed by Boko Haram is down from its heights in 2014–15.

But the reason I brought up the vastness at the beginning is that while these are all groups following a jihadist ideology, many are also driven by very local concerns. Consequently they likely have local solutions. And we need to be careful about how much lumping together we do about jihadist violence in Africa.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist data team.

Jupiter’s New Moons

Yesterday, space nerds were alerted to the news that 12 new moons have been discovered in orbit of Jupiter. These are much smaller than Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, which is the largest moon in the Solar System and is larger than even Mercury. The point is that there are almost certainly no Ganymede-esque moons orbiting Jupiter that remain undiscovered.

But despite their small size, these moons do have some interesting features, as the article I read in the Guardian pointed out. The most interesting is the orbit of the moons. In general, Jovian moons orbit either prograde, i.e. with the orbit of Jupiter, or retrograde, i.e. against the orbit of Jupiter. The two inner moons discovered are prograde and nine of the other 12 are in an outer orbit of retrograde moons. But Valetudo, the 12th, which orbits in the retrograde group, actually orbits in a prograde fashion. The graphic below from the Carnegie Science Institute does a pretty good job of showing this.

Consider this your collision warning
Consider this your collision warning

Ultimately this means that at some point in the future, Valetudo will slam head-on collision style with another Jovian moon. And reportedly that will be so intense we will be able to see it from Earth. Bangin’. Catch is that it will not likely happen anytime soon.

As for the graphic above, I am of two minds. I generally like the use of colour. The bright green contrasts starkly against the red—though it should be pointed out it would fail a red-green colour blindness test. And then the interesting, but admittedly less interesting prograde and previously discovered Galilean moons are in more muted blues and purples, which puts them further into the background. It works nicely as a complete package.

But should it be on a deep blue background? Lots of space visualisations use black backgrounds, including my work and the work of others. But sometimes work that uses a white or otherwise light background could more clearly show things like orbits. It is difficult to say with certainty because of the lack of a light background for comparison’s sake.

The other thing that gets to me is the viewing angle of the orbits. Clearly we are looking neither dead-on nor from high above. And that makes it a bit more difficult to compare orbits. Of course these might not all be on the same plane because orbits are in three-dimensional space. But if the orbits were all shown from above, it would certainly aid with problems of foreshortening.

All in all, though, I shan’t complain because we have more moons in the Solar System. And who knows how many more smaller moons both Jupiter and Saturn have.

Credit for the piece goes to Roberto Molar Candanosa.

Revealing the Past Through a Heatwave

The United Kingdom has been…well, enjoying is not the right word for me, so let’s just say witnessing a heatwave. And it is having some unexpected consequences. In short, things like grass will behave differently in extreme conditions when planted on soil vs. when growing atop stone, wood, or other non-natural features. This helps identify foundations and alike for long-forgotten structures. The BBC has a nice piece looking at some work just like this discovered across the British Isles.

The house was known about, but the details are still fascinating.
The house was known about, but the details are still fascinating.

Credit for the piece goes to Paul Hancock and PH Aerial Photograph.

Burden Sharing in NATO

Late last week we heard a lot about contributions to NATO. Except, that was not true. Because the idea of spending 2% of GDP on NATO is actually about a NATO member spending 2% of its GDP on its military. And within that 2%, at least 20% must be spent on hardware or R&D. There is a separate operating budget to which countries actually contribute funds. But before we look at all of this as a whole, I wanted to explore the burden sharing, which is what NATO terms the 2% of GDP defence expenditures.

I did something similar a couple of years ago back in 2014 during the height of the Russia–Ukraine crisis. However, here I looked at a narrower data set from 2011 to 2018 and then across all the NATO members. In 2014, NATO met in Wales and agreed that over the next ten years all members would increase their defence spending to 2% of GDP. We are only four years into that ten year plan and so most of these countries still have time to reach that level.

That's still a whole lot spent on defence
That’s still a whole lot spent on defence

Credit for the piece is mine.

The James Webb Telescope: Delayed Again

A few weeks ago it was announced that NASA’s James Webb space telescope would see its launch delayed again. The successor to the Hubble telescope was originally supposed to launch several years ago, but now it won’t fly until at least 2021. Thankfully xkcd covered this slipping launch date.

Sad trombone
Sad trombone

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Penalty Shoot Outs

Well, football is not coming home. But the World Cup continues. And should we get another final match tied at the end of extra time, that means penalty shoot outs. Thankfully, the Economist did a nice job detailing the success rates on goal by placement of the ball.

Coin flips
Coin flips

The only thing I am unsure about is whether the dots represent the actual placement or just positioning within the aggregate zone. The colours work well together and the graphic of the goal is not overpowering.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

The Semifinalists

Today is the semifinal match between England and Croatia. I could have posted this yesterday, but the US Supreme Court selection seemed more important. But today’s post is a simple scatter plot from FiveThirtyEight. It is part of a broader article comparing the four semifinalists of the World Cup. (Spoiler alert, France won its match.)

No drama today, please
No drama today, please

In terms of design, we can contrast this to yesterday’s dot plot about Kavanaugh. There the highlighted dot was orange with a black outline. Here, same deal. But yesterday, the other justices were shown with black dots and an empty dot for retiring Justice Kennedy. Here all the other countries in the World Cup are orange dots.

I wonder, given the orangeness of the other countries, maybe a solid black dot would have worked a little better for the four semifinalists. Or to keep the orange with black outline dots, maybe a lighter orange or grey dots for the other World Cup teams. (I think black would probably be too strong in this case.)

Overall, it shows that today’s match between England and Croatia will be tough. And should England advance, a match against France will be even tougher.

Credit for the piece goes to Bobby Gardiner.

Kavanaugh the Conservative

Last night President Trump nominated Merrick Garland to fill the seat left by Anthony Kennedy. Just kidding. But he is up for a vote in the Senate. Also just kidding.

No, instead, President Trump nominated a very conservative judge for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh. How conservative? Well, FiveThirtyEight explained in a piece that plotted the judge against his probably peers on the bench, based upon one measure of judicial ideology. And it turns out, spoiler, Kavanaugh sits just to the left of Clarence Thomas. And he sits pretty well to the right.

To the right, to the right, to the right goes the Court
To the right, to the right, to the right goes the Court

The graphic itself is an evolution of a piece from last Friday that looked at what were thought to be the four main candidates on Trump’s shortlist.

A definite lean to the right
A definite lean to the right

The final piece, with only Kavanaugh plotted, removes the other potential candidates. And it functions well, using the brighter orange to draw attention from the black dots of the sitting bench and the open dot of the vacant seat. My slight issue is with the predecessor graphic that shows the four candidates.

I probably would have just left off Barrett as she did not have a score. While I have no doubt that she would score to the right based upon all the reading I have done over the past several days, it feels a bit odd to place her on the graphic at all. Instead, I probably would have used an asterisk or a footnote to say that she did not have a score and thus was not placed.

Credit for the piece goes to Oliver Roeder and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux.

Rescuing a Trapped Thai Football Team

For much of the last two weeks the world has followed the drama unfolding in Thailand, where a youth football team has been trapped underground in a partially flooded cave complex. This weekend, rescuers, who had overcome a daunting challenge of simply finding them, began extracting the boys. And this graphic from the BBC shows just how challenging their extraction will be.

In particular I like this map. It illustrates both the path of the cave, but also shows how uneven the interior structure is. It does that by showing select cross sections with a person to scale. Some parts are so small and narrow that people can barely squeeze through.

I wouldn't like being in there one bit
I wouldn’t like being in there one bit

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Nine O’clock on a Friday (Morning)

When I lived in Chicago, karaoke was definitely a thing I did. Billy Joel’s Piano Man was among the songs in my repertoire. And this Friday, well, we made it to another weekend. So raise a glass, toast Indexed, and forget about life for a while.

Me, I'm just practicing politics…
Me, I’m just practicing politics…

Credit for the piece goes to Jessica Hagy.