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.

The Northeast Passage

The Northeast Passage was supposed to be a shortcut to Asia from Europe through an open waterway in North America. Many tried to find the route. They failed. Because we have a mountain range running from the northernmost part of North America to the Isthmus of Darien where, perhaps desperate for the route, we dug the Panama Canal.

Climate change, however, is shrinking the Arctic ice cap and making the northern shores of Canada, Russia, the US and a few others navigable. True, the best times for travel are in summer. True, there are still icebergs the further from the coast you go. But you can now travel the Northeast Passage, sailing north from Japan, skirting the Russian coast and then down the North Sea into the commercial ports of northern Europe.

The New York Times has a piece about the improving business opportunities for those daring enough to ply the route. Accompanying the article is this map, a cropping of which appears below.

The Northeast Passage
The Northeast Passage

Show Me the Money

Campaign finance is always an interesting subject during election cycles. I believe I have heard that once a congressman wins election he needs to raise $1000 per week to stand a chance of re-election in two years’ time. One need only imagine the difference in scale for presidential contests.

Or do you…

Show Me the Money
Show Me the Money

The New York Times created an interactive piece that details the financing, principally of this year’s primary campaigns, but alongside data from four years ago. Inflation hasn’t been too terrible, so the numbers are relatively comparable.

Of some note, however, is that this time around this is not an ‘open’ election. In 2008 the sitting president was term-limited and his vice president was not running so both the Republicans and Democrats were open contests for any challenger to win. In 2012, President Obama will not (likely) have to fight other Democrats for the nomination of his party and his funding can be marshalled solely against his Republican challengers. Whereas the Republican challengers need to spend considerable amounts of their funding simply to get through the primaries.

Surveying Sentiment

How do you feel about the economy?

Economic Outlook, scaled
Economic Outlook, scaled

The New York Times has posted an interesting interactive visualisation detailing the sentiment expressed by participants—defaulting to the most recent 100—answering several questions on the state of the economy. As a survey, this is—and it is framed as such—an unscientific sampling of trending opinions of only those who feel inclined to comment and are registered members of the New York Times.

What makes this more interesting is the ability to demographically filter the responses to find, for example, that the unemployed feel worse about their job status than the employed…perhaps that is not the best of examples, but, hey, it works.

One can also find the specific response tied to a marker on the field/band/spectrum of responses by mousing over and then clicking on the symbol. A little and unfortunate quirk here is that clicking on the person forces one down the page to the specific comment, but then leaves one with no easy way of returning to the broader picture short of scrolling all the way back to the top.

Less Pie for Fewer Less Fortunate Foreigners

Foreign aid is the ‘soft’ power of a country vis-a-vis the ‘hard’ power of military force. Think blankets with ‘from the USA’ during earthquake relief in Kashmir instead of Abrams tanks in Kandahar. Some also goes to building infrastructure and increasing the standard of living for those in emerging countries. If you boost the income, you boost the buying power and thus boost the total possible market size.

Scaled image of US foreign aid spending
Scaled image of US foreign aid spending

This chart, which supports this article, from the New York Times is simple but effective. Not only does it show the decreasing amount spent in terms of absolute dollars, but also as part of the overall budget. After all, one can, in theory receive a smaller (by angle) slice of pie, but if the size of the pie increases, you net more pie. And who doesn’t want more pie?

Although this is the Republican-led House of Representatives, so the pie is being made much smaller. So…

Interestingly, in Britain, where the right/centre-right Conservatives are in power (with the liberal Liberal Democrats), the government of David Cameron is also cutting spending. But there, areas like defence spending are falling under the axe. One of only two, if I recall correctly, areas not being cut is foreign aid spending. (The other is healthcare.) Furthermore, if I recall, Britain, despite its austerity drive, is actually increasing spending on foreign aid. Maybe the Brits just will have new markets for all that British engineering…

Credit Rating Distribution

A small graphic from the New York Times, this supports an article about the rarity of a credit rating of AAA in S&P 500 companies.

Distribution of Credit Ratings, per Standard and Poor's ratings.
Distribution of Credit Ratings, per Standard and Poor's ratings.

I don’t quite know about the colour, nor do I know about the efficiency of using squares to represent the units that could be used in a bar chart, but I suspect they go towards making a graphic interesting and visually compelling. Fortunately, neither actually distorts the data.

Farewell to the Space Shuttle

As most of us know, the final space shuttle mission lifted off on Friday. Appropriately, the New York Times created an infographic for the news stories accompanying the mission that details the history of the entire shuttle program’s flights. If you are a space-y kind of guy like me, it’s worth a look.

shuttles

The West Bank Archipelago

This post is about an older work from Le Monde, the link to which I now forget. However, given all the talk these days about Israel and Palestine and 1967 borders, I figured it may well be advantageous to remind all that the borders likely will not be those of 1967, for the sheer fact that Israel has divided the West Bank between security zones and settlements. The end result is that the Palestinian areas of the West Bank now resemble more an archipelago nation better suited for the islands of Indonesia or the Caribbean rather than the desert of the Middle East.

This link takes you to a New York Times blog post about the land problem and includes the map, which one can see at a reduced scale down in the article.

Detail of the map
Detail of the map

Credit for the original goes to Julien Bousac of Le Monde.

Year of the Tornado

2011 appears to be the year of the tornado, with killer tornados roaming from Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and small towns in the deep South now to Joplin, Missouri. The latter now holds the record for being the most deadly, 117 confirmed deaths, in US-recorded history.

The New York Times, in its coverage of the aftermath—and the potential for more destruction with the forecasted weather—has mapped, charted, and animated data from the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to illustrate the totality of the devastation witnessed this year.

The piece makes use of a map to illustrate where tornados struck and then their subsequent track, relevant geographic data, and that matches that with known fatalities using the always popular area of a circle datapoints. I am less keen on these for their cross-comparable nature, but here, in this instance, that is less the focus than the overall number of deaths and their locations. Then we also have the dataset over time with the noted caveats that, one, only in 2011 are deaths linked to counties rather than tornados as in all years past and, two, that as our ability to detect and record tornados has increased, we have more data with which to work. In short, it is not necessarily true that 1953 had less tornados than 2011.

Screenshot Detailing 2011 Tornados
Screenshot Detailing 2011 Tornados

Given the severity of the current year, and this outbreak in particular, the New York Times also created a smaller, but by no means lesser, piece to highlight just those tornados striking the Southeast. This piece maps the tornados by touchdown, date, and time. Omitted is data on fatalities or damage. However, this piece complements the larger, broader view of the above by breaking down the 2011 year, thus far, into increments of days. This is a great complementary piece that, by being separate from the first piece, allows each to shine in its own respective area.

The Outbreak of 27 April
The Outbreak of 27 April

Credit to this second piece goes to Archie Tse, Matt Ericson, and Alan McLean.

(Insert 1/1000 Airplane Jokes Here)

Airlines merge. (As do many other companies, but those companies are not the focus of this post.) And often the mergers are complex. Lamentably, one cannot simply merge logos and be done. Here is looking at you, UAL Corporation (United Air Lines) + Continental Airlines Inc.= United Continental Holdings Co.—not that I particularly care for the United Continental logo mashup, I miss the Saul Bass logo for United.

Unfortunately there are things to worry about like getting planes to fly, not crash into each other, not to mention ticketing, unions, general technology…one hopefully gets the idea.

But for those of you who do not, an article in the New York Times about the merger of Delta and Northwest includes a graphic about the master guide to the whole process. Note the use of sticky pad paper. Each piece represents one project, with projects containing as many as a thousand separate tasks.

Merger Process Wall
Merger Process Wall