We Want to (Quell a) Riot (with Military Grade Hardware)

The New York Times had a piece in the Sunday paper asking whether American police have gone military, especially in the wake of the images of the police response to Occupy Oakland and Occupy Wall Street with police/troops deployed in tactical body armour, armoured vehicles, &c. The Times piece was accompanied by an Op-Art piece that took three key protests and illustrated the type of police officer responding to the unrest.

Evolution of Riot Gear
Evolution of Riot Gear

Credit for the illustration goes to Chi Birmingham. The title of this post comes from a British publication about the Brixton riot of 1981 where an individual was asked about why he was rioting was quoted as saying “We want to riot, not to work.”

The New York City Marathon

Something I’ve been meaning to put up for a little while, the New York Times’ coverage of that city’s marathon and changes in the socioeconomic composition of the neighbourhoods through which the course winds.

The piece includes a narrated motion graphic explaining the changes along a map of the course, while a series of charts look at those factors from a static perspective. The horizontal axis being the route of the course.

Brooklyn segment of the NYC Marathon
Brooklyn segment of the NYC Marathon

Credit for the piece goes to Graham Roberts, Alan McLean, Archie Tse, Lisa Waananen, Timothy Wallace, Xaquin G.V., Joe Burgess, and Joe Ward.

Income Segregation in the Philadelphia Metro Area

In an area very close to me…quite literally…the New York Times published an article about increasing segregation between the rich and the poor via the areas where they live. The study by Stanford University found that the Philadelphia metropolitan area saw the “sharpest rise” in segregation since the 1970s—the study used census data available through 2007. The accompanying graphic highlights the growth of the segregation from 1970, using small multiples of choropleths to compare 1970 to 1990 to 2007.

In 1970, much of the metro area was middle-income neighbourhoods. Certainly, the central core of Philadelphia was depressed. So too was Chester and rural southwestern Chester County. The upper-income neighbourhoods were in the close suburbs, note the townships stretching due west of the city and you see the Main Line, one of the most affluent areas of the United States, while other veins of wealth extend along other old rail lines leaving the city.

Neighbourhoods by Income in 1970
Neighbourhoods by Income in 1970

Those such as myself who are familiar with both the area and recent history should note that places like Coatesville and Downingtown are shown as middle-income. In the 1970s, areas like this and in similar places like Falls Township in Bucks County had robust steel and manufacturing sectors that employed a substantial portion of the local population.

But, compare this to 2007 and you will begin to see how many old factory towns of middle-income areas became dense pockets of depression while the city of Philadelphia itself saw a flight of wealth to the rest of the suburbs. The rural parts of Chester, Montgomery, and Bucks have seen high growth by means of new developments of upper-middle- and upper-income homes.

Hispanic Growth in the Plains

There is a scene in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica where with the human population almost extinct, one character comments on the romances of two others by saying “they better start having babies”.

The demographics of the United States are changing. Not that they were not changing prior to recent years; Native American populations were reduced by English and Scottish settlers; the English and Scottish populations were diluted by Germans; then came the Irish and the Italians; then the Slavs; then Chinese—simplistic, but you get the idea.

Now, in the Midwest, as the New York Times reports in both an article and its supporting graphic, the long-established relative decline of the United States’ white population is being checked by a surge in Hispanic growth, especially in the rural plains states.

Hispanic Growth in the Plains
Hispanic Growth in the Plains

I am never so much a fan of the circles as sizes of population—a choropleth would have worked equally well—but it does suffice for this graphic. My larger concern is that the graphic measures growth but does not state growth between what years. Presumably, though the data is sourced from Queens College Department of Sociology, it originates in census figures. That would most likely mean growth between 2000 and 2010.

Humanity’s Not So Finest Hours

Humanity is amazing. We have great emotional power for love, sympathy, compassion, &c. We have great intellectual power; we have/are mastering mathematics and science to explore the depths of this ocean and the surfaces of planets not our own.

Yet with these great powers comes a great responsibility. And as we continue to reflect upon the milestone of reaching a population of 7 billion men and women, Bill Marsh at the New York Times, along with Micah Cohen, Matthew Ericson, and Kevin Quealy, reflected Sunday on humanity’s ability to let this responsibility slip from time to time and how at those times the human population of Earth fell.

Timeline of Humanity's Atrocities
Timeline of Humanity's Atrocities

The data comes from a book by Matthew White called “The Great Big Book of Horrible Things” that details the worst 100 cases of man killing fellow man. (Although, according to Marsh the account is humourous, though I have never read it.) At the top are no particular surprises: World War II, World War I, and Genghis Khan. The reigns of Chairman Mao, Stalin, and the Kims of North Korea. But a look further down the list, further down the timeline reveals in all its tarnished glory the history of humanity when we not quite so amazing.

Can a Republican Win the White House?

It’s Election Day. Well, not really. But, Nate Silver and the New York Times have come together to release an election simulator, if you will, focused on the chances that a Republican will win the White House.

Chances of Republican Candidates Winning the Election
Chances of Republican Candidates Winning the Election

You play with a few different variables to control the outcome: GDP growth and President Obama’s approval rating. These then are computed along with a few other things (I assume) and, like magic, you get to see your Republican pick’s changes of winning the election.

Keep in mind that these are just possible candidates, not necessarily likely candidates. John Huntsman, after all, is polling in the single digits in some of the early primary states. So while the moderate, centre-right, former ambassador to China, ex-governor of Utah looks almost unbeatable in several scenarios, I think most would agree that the Republican base will not vote for him.

But it is scenarios like that of Huntsman that are worth reminding us that perhaps the current party political system we have in the United States does not yield the best candidates for public office, nor the most broadly electable.

Random is the New Orderly

Ever been on a flight where there is not enough overhead luggage capacity for everyone? Then they make you stow your bag anyway? Well, apparently that’s what’s happening in these days of baggage fees—which make airlines quite profitable.

This diagram in the New York Times shows how American Airlines is changing from the more common front-to-back seating of passengers to a random assignment of seats in an attempt to reduce the time spent boarding the plane. After all, not only are baggage fees money, but so is time.

Boarding Diagram
Boarding Diagram

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.

Oh Great Gatsby

Income inequality basically means that the wealth of a country, in this case, is unevenly distributed with most of it falling in the hands of a very few people or families. Think the era of, as the title alludes to, Gatsby and the 1920s before the Crash.

Broadly speaking, a middle class requires a more dilute concentration of wealth, and as this graphic from the New York Times shows, we are seeing—Great Recession aside—the growing wealth of the wealthy at the expense of the rest of the country. Look at, for example, the 1950s, 60s, and 70s when the highest income bracket had its marginal tax rate in the 70% range. The top 1% owned only about 10% of the wealth. Just before the subprime crisis hit, that number was just under 25%.

Ownership of US wealth for the top 1%
Ownership of US wealth for the top 1%

European Debt Crisis Explained

The European debt crisis affects all of us. Shares fall on the exchanges in Frankfurt, Paris and London and then ripple westward to New York before finally reaching Hong Kong and Tokyo. But does anyone understand actually understand who owes whom what?

This interactive piece is yet another from the New York Times and is an online version of a print graphic that appeared in Sunday’s paper. Online, interactivity is used to focus attention on particular elements of the story, highlighting key components of the tangled debt web that anchors the whole piece. The width of the lines relate the difference between borrowers and lenders.

An Overview of the European Debt Crisis
An Overview of the European Debt Crisis

Hidden in the width of the arrows, however, is the gross lending. The lending may appear to cancel itself out, but the banks and other sources of the loans may not all be lending to each other, i.e., some big players could still take a hit if the crisis worsens.

The colours reflect the level of ‘worry’ in the country—though how worry is defined is left unstated.

Different parts of the story and potential scenarios are revealed by clicking buttons on the left-hand side of the piece. Elements of the large graphic that are not needed to tell that part of the story, though remaining pieces remain in place. This is an effective means of reminding the audience where they are situated in the overall web, but I wonder if not a slight shadow or faint trace of the web in the background could have been used instead of losing all the information entirely.

Overall, the interactive piece is quite effective in telling the story. But, because this was in the Sunday paper, the lazy afternoon paper, we also have a large-scale printed infographic that the interactive piece accompanied.

The Printed Explanation
The Printed Explanation

This has a lot more text—dreaded words—to further explain just what is happening. In my mind this adds to the story. For example, what I noted above about the net loans between two parties obscures the gross loans of both sides. This point is explicitly made about Britain and Ireland, which have enjoyed a very strong bilateral trade arrangement for a number of years. This context is added by a little text blurb crafted into the overall design of the piece.

Different scenarios are highlighted at the bottom with a reduction of the main piece creating small multiples of the diagram instead of how the interactive piece removed unnecessary elements. I think this is an equally effective means of solving that problem.

The New York Times created two separate but very much related pieces to explain a story that affects us all. The first media, the interactive piece, takes advantage of the ability to replace on the screen what is not necessary with what is necessary. Further, it allows some data that is not so relevant at first glance to be hidden. Mouse over the various lines and countries to reveal the data behind the problem for each. Do we need this information at first? No. Our first order is to try and work out the web we weaved. Well, that the bankers weaved.

That is very different than the print edition, which cannot be changed. All the content must be available at once. But, the data is made smaller because the print resolution is finer than that of a screen. Small text that might not be legible on a screen can be printed and read just fine. The printed edition also allows more space and thus more text for context. And this is okay knowing that the Sunday paper is likely to be read while relaxing with a fine cup of tea or coffee.

Credit for the piece goes to Bill Marsh.