The Saudi Assassination Squad

Yesterday we looked at the importance of arms deals from the US and UK to Saudi Arabia in the wake of the brutal murder and assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist who sometimes wrote critically of the Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) regime. But what about the actual murder itself? What do we know?

Well at some point today, President Erdogan of Turkey will give a speech, just prior to the opening of the big Saudi conference the Saudis have branded the Davos of the Desert. In Erdogan’s speech, he is expected to reveal even more of the details of the murder as collected by Turkish intelligence services. But as this story has been unfolding, the Washington Post has been collecting the details about the alleged 15-person assassination squad.

The entire piece is worth reading. It provides great detail and walks the reader through how the story was pieced together. And relevant to my blog it makes use of some nice data visualisation and design elements, including this graphic.

A few too many coincidences in this story…
A few too many coincidences in this story…

It captures some of the arrivals and departures of six of the men identified. The graphic also notes that sometimes people will not be documented because they arrive on diplomatic flights instead of commercial flights.

As for the rest, the Post used photographic evidence to show how one of the individuals was likely a bodyguard or in the security services for MBS. Phone records and the photographic records of Turkish border control were also used. Taken together, it paints a damning portrait of the supposedly modernising MBS regime.

Of course now we can only wait to see what Erdogan has to say this morning.

Credit for the piece goes to Aaron C. Davis, Aaron Williams and Jason Bernert.

Big Bulls

Last Thursday, the US entered its longest bull market in history. And the New York Times covered the story on the front page, which makes this another episode of covering graphics when they land on the Times’ front page. Of course, last week was a big news week away from the economy and so it is no surprise that the above-the-fold coverage was on the scandals besetting the president and those of his team who have pleaded guilty or been convicted of crimes by juries.

The front page design
The front page design

But you will note that below the fold is that nice little graphic. Here we see it in more detail.

Bull runs
Bull runs

What I like about the graphic is how it uses the blue fill to draw attention to the bull markets but then also labels how long each was. Those keen on the story will note there is a debate whether a particular 19.9% drop qualifies for the 20% drop usually used to benchmark the beginning and ending of a bull market. That is why there is that second label with the black arrows on the graphic.

It also uses the negative space created by the shape of the graphic to contain its title, text, and caption information.

Credit for the piece goes to Karl Russell.

The Evolution of the S&P 500

I found myself doing a bit of summer cleaning yesterday and I stumbled upon a few graphics of interest. This one comes from a September 2016 Wall Street Journal article about the changes in the S&P 500, a composite index of American stocks, some of the 500 largest.

In terms of the page design, if it were not for that giant 1/6 page advert in the lower right corner, this graphic could potentially dominate the visual page.  The bulk of it sits above the page’s fold and the only other competing element is a headshot to the upper-right. Regardless, it was clearly enough to grab my attention as I was going through some papers.

The overall page
The overall page

As for the graphic itself, I probably would have some done things differently.

Trees?
Trees?

To start, are these actual tree maps? Or are they things attempting to look like tree maps? It is difficult to tell. In an actual tree map, the rectangles are not just arranged by convenience, as they appear to be here. Instead, they are in descending—or perhaps occasionally ascending—area, within groupings.

The groupings would have been particularly powerful here.  Imagine instead of disparate blue boxes for industrials and utilities in the latter two years that they were combined into a single box. In 2001, that box may have been larger than the orange financials. Then by 2016, you would have seen those boxes switch places—in both years well behind the green boxes of 2001 debuts. If instead the goal was to show the percentages, as it might be given each percentage is labelled, a straight bar chart would have sufficed.

I am not always a fan of the circle for sizes along the bottom. But the bigger problem I have here is the alignment of the labelling and the pseudo-tree maps. One of my first questions was “how big are these years?”. However, that was one of the last points displayed, and it is separated from the tree maps from the listing of the largest company in the index from that year. I would have kept the total market cap closer to the trees, and perhaps used the whole length of line beneath the trees and instead pushed the table labels somewhere between the rather large gap from 1976 and 2001.

Credit for the piece goes to the Wall Street Journal graphics department.

Spanish Silver

A few weeks back now the Economist posted a graphic about the link between lead, silver, and the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. But not in the way you probably think. Instead, they graph the appearance of lead deposits in the glaciers of Greenland.

I believe that final Iberian power is meant to be the Moops.
I believe that final Iberian power is meant to be the Moops.

For the full explanation you should read the short article. But this piece was right up my alley. We have ancient history, economics, science, and a timeline. And all in one neat little chart.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s Data Team.

Gun Control Legislation

Back in March I posted about a great graphic from the New York Times editorial board they made in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. Saturday morning, the day after Friday’s Santa Fe, Texas school shooting, I was reading the paper and found the updated graphic.

That is a whole lot of months since Sandy Hook…
That is a whole lot of months since Sandy Hook…

Yeah, almost nothing has changed. Congress passed and the president signed an omnibus spending bill that included language to improve reporting on background checks.

Yeah.

Now from a design standpoint, what’s nice about this graphic is its restrained use of colour. The whole piece works in black and white. Of course it helps that there is nothing to show that needs to be highlighted in the data.

Yeah.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.

To Infinity—

Wait, wrong film.

No, this weekend is Infinity War. Which is definitely not led by a Buzz Lightyear. For those of you who don’t know, Infinity War is sort of the culmination of ten years of Marvel superhero films, called the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that started with 2008’s Iron Man. Infinity War is the 19th film and brings together more than 30 main characters—and I believe I’ve read elsewhere as many as 85 when you count minor/side characters—into one two-part film. Yes, this will undoubtedly end on a cliffhanger leading into next year’s film.

If we assume each film is two hours (and I don’t think a single one has been under two hours), we are talking about 38 hours of film to watch to catch up before Friday’s release. Because both the previous Avengers films were 2h20m, I think we can round that up to at least an even 40. You know, a full work week.

Well, if your bosses won’t let you watch Marvel films all week, the Washington Post put together a nice interactive timeline that tries to sum it all up for you.

All the characters…but far from true.
All the characters…but far from true.

What is really neat about the piece, beyond helping me recall just what happened ten years ago, you can filter the timeline based on character and major plot points.

What would be really neat, though I assume someone has already done it, is a social network map showing how all these disparate groups were before this weekend’s film. Get on that, internet.

Credit for the piece goes to Sonia Rao and Shelly Tan.

Where Syria Struck with Chemical Weapons

Friday night the US, UK, and France struck targets in Syria that play a role in the chemical weapons programme of the Bashir al-Assad regime. This is despite “eliminating” his chemical weapons several years ago. And so not surprisingly the media this past weekend covered Syria and the airstrikes. This print piece from the New York Times, however, looked backwards at the history of the chemical attacks Syria has unleashed against its own people.

Note the timeline in the lower-right to provide context of when and how frequent the chemical attacks have been
Note the timeline in the lower-right to provide context of when and how frequent the chemical attacks have been

The map is straightforward and the timeline helpful. Though I would probably have added a point on the timeline highlighting the Ghouta attack of August 2013. That attack prompted the international community to pressure the Assad regime to, again, “eliminate” its chemical weapon stocks. Clearly it hid some sarin and chlorine gas has industrial uses, making it a classic dual-purpose object that is tricky to classify as a weapon. (Though using it against civilians is clearly a weaponised use of the element.)

On a side note, I wanted to point the editorial design here. The overall page is quite nice.

The whole article is well laid out
The whole article is well laid out

The map falls squarely within the middle of the article, with a nice gallery of photographs running along the top. It also features a devastating pull quote describing the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. The article fits almost entirely above not just the fold, but also another terrible line of text, in this case the title of another article: Officials Have Lost Count of How Many Thousands Have Died in Syria’s War.

Overall, this was a solid piece providing a backdrop and historical context for the news.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.

Natural Decrease

The New York Times has posted a nice piece with an animated graphic. No, not that piece, I’ll probably cover that next week. This one looks at demographic changes in the United States, specifically in the population change at county levels. A number you arrive at by subtracting deaths from births and excluding migration.

That is a lot of red, especially in the Northeast and Midwest…
That is a lot of red, especially in the Northeast and Midwest…

Basically what we are seeing is a whole lot of red outside the major cities, i.e. the outer suburbs. The article does a nice job of explaining the factors going into the declines and is well worth its quick read.

Credit for the piece goes to Robert Gebeloff.

Warmer Winters

Philadelphia is expecting a little bit of snow today, 20 March. We should not be seeing too much accumulate if anything, but still, flakes will likely be in the air this evening. That made me think of this piece from just last week where the New York Times looked at the change in winter temperatures across the United States for the last almost 120 years.

Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that climate change does not mean that temperatures always rise. Instead, while the general average trends upward, the curve flattens out meaning more extreme events on both the hot and the cold parts of the spectrum. (Actually, the New York Times covered this very subject well back in August.)

As a cold weather person, yeah, this isn't great…
As a cold weather person, yeah, this isn’t great…

Anyway, the map from the Times shows how the biggest changes have been recorded in the north of the Plains states. But the same general shift is subject to local conditions, most notably in the southeast where temperatures are actually a lit bit lower.

Credit for the piece goes to Nadja Popovich and Blacki Migliozzi.

When No Change or Growth Is the Story

For many years I would often tell people that sometimes a visualisation can be “boring”, because the data itself is boring—a lack of growth in a market, no real mergers, or even steady and consistent but unspectacular growth. Those can all be stories, even if they likely result in very monotone choropleths or straight line charts or perfect steps of bar charts.

And then there are times when the lack of growth or change, when visualised, can be very powerful. I wanted to share this piece from the New York Times with everyone because it does just that.

Starting from the Sandy Hook Massacre and moving through to Parkland
Starting from the Sandy Hook Massacre and moving through to Parkland

You really need to click through and see the scale and scope, because the designers behind this did a fantastic job of capturing that sense of lack of change in a very large and expansive piece.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times Editorial Board.