Maps of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is preparing for elections at the end of the month. For decades since independence from Belgium, the country has been beset by insurrection and civil war. Eastern portions of the country are all lawless and beyond the control of the government in the capital Kinshasa. Yet, DR Congo, which is almost the size of all of Western Europe, holds vast mineral and energy reserves.

Much like with the independence of South Sudan, the BBC has released a small interactive piece detailing DR Congo through maps. While not as extensive and lacking in visualising anything about the warfare and bloodshed, the piece is useful to gain a brief insight into the complexities of the country and the sheer scale of its problems. But that is not wholly surprising as the title of the piece is Failed State: Can DR Congo Recover?.

Screenshot of a guide to DR Congo
Screenshot of a guide to DR Congo

363 Days

We are now just under 365 days away from Election Day 2012. Without a doubt, I shall have many politically-themed graphics coming. People just have to start making them. But for now, the Economist kicked it off Monday—when it was 365 days—with a motion graphic piece that outlines some of the polling numbers and challenges to the Republicans vying for power and President Obama determined to keep it.

365 days until Election Day 2012
365 days until Election Day 2012

Certain types of the chart are very much not helpful in determining the actual numerical comparisons. But, with the voiceover keeping our attention and explaining what is going on with the charts, it is as always interesting to experience a story told in charts and graphs for nearly three minutes. And about a story with real significance.

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.

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%

What’s In a Name?

Gadhafi is dead. Sorry, I meant Kadhafi. Again, apologies, Qadaffy.

For so many years we have tried to spell the now deceased dictators name. It’s been in Saturday Night Live (sadly I cannot find a clip online). It’s been in the West Wing. So how can it be done?

The problem is that his name is in Arabic, which uses a different alphabet and so for the English-speaking world, transliterators must assign Latin alphabet characters to try and replicate the sounds in his name, some of which are unique to Arabic. Ever notice how the holy text of Islam is spelled often Koran or Quran? Just take that same problem and extend it further into a guy’s name.

This graphic, from Wikipedia, shows how the different parts of his name can be transliterated. And very quickly one can see why nobody really knows how to spell the name.

How to spell "the guy's" name.
How to spell "the guy's" name.

The next graphic is from Breaking Copy and depicts the most common ways of spelling the man’s name. The design of the piece is certainly more about entertainment than conveying a learning. But, it goes to illustrate the variance by major respected news organisations, all of whom are reporting on the man’s death. Credit for the piece goes to Daryl Lang.

Breaking Copy's infographic on the issue
Breaking Copy's infographic on the issue

And as a retrospective, news of his death and the liberation of Libya made me think back to my own graphic about some of the very first airstrikes in post from back in March.

Detailing the Libyan Crisis as of 20 March
Detailing the Libyan Crisis as of 20 March

But, anyway, he’s dead now. So the question is what name does he use on his headstone…

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.

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…

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.