Timelines and Visualizations

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What Are Traffic Waves and Why Do They Happen So Much?

Includes interactive graphics

By Lewis Lehe and Matthew Green

trafficwavesWho doesn’t love sitting in traffic? Especially when there’s no apparent reason for it: no crashes, no tolls, no flaming mattresses. Just a sudden and infuriating slowdown of the cars ahead, causing you to slam on the brakes, spill coffee all over yourself and slow to a glacial crawl, usually when you’re already late for something important — a job interview, for instance. Pure gridlock.And then, when all hope seems lost, the congestion breaks as seemingly spontaneously as it began. And you’re on your way again … for a good 2 minutes before the whole thing repeats itself. Welcome to the world of traffic waves, a phenomenon that’s been exasperating drivers since the first cars started coming off Ford’s assembly line a century ago. Continue reading

Chart: How BART Pay Compares to Pay at Other Big Transit Agencies in California

Includes interactive charts
Wikipedia

Wikipedia

Ah, BART. Never a dull moment.

If only its unions and management could learn the virtues of unity and cooperation that our elected officials in Washington have so magnanimously exhibited (hmmm …).

Well, it’s happened again. At the stroke of midnight, following a breakdown in negotiations, unionized BART workers went on strike, grinding the entire rail network to a disgruntled halt just in time for the Friday morning commute. Continue reading

Timeline: A Robust History of Recent U.S. Military Invasions

Includes interactive timeline
Ahmad Mansur/Wikimedia Commons

Ahmad Mansur/Wikimedia Commons

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military has had its hands full. Starting in 1990, we’ve fought three official wars, and been involved in no less than seven additional military interventions.

It is still unclear whether the U.S. will engage in a bombing campaign against Syria as punishment for that government’s supposed use of chemical weapons against its people. Until the announcement last week of a tentative deal between the U.S. and Russia (Syria’s most powerful ally) requiring the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to destroy its entire chemical weapons arsenal within a specific time-frame, a U.S. military intervention seemed imminent.

Although far from a guarantee against the a U.S. bombing campaign, the agreement — if adhered to by all parties– has the promise of preventing U.S. military involvement. If, however, the deal is broken, intervention is all but assured, making Syria the 11th large-scale military action the U.S. has taken in less than 25 years.

Scroll through this interactive timeline — produced by Al Jazeera — to learn about the history, causes, and outcomes of each military conflict that the United States has gotten itself involved in. Click here to view the full-size version.

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Ten Government Leaks that Rocked the Boat

Includes interactive timeline

The high profile trials and tribulations of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, both of whom leaked large amounts of classified government information to the media, have placed renewed focus and debate on the importance of leakers and whistle-blowers in American politics. The following is an interactive timeline chronicling some of the most famous — and infamous — leaks in U.S. history.

Best viewed in full-screen mode

How Much Does it Really Cost to Live in California?

Includes interactive infographic

In order to pay for basic living expenses, a single California resident with no children would need to make, on average, roughly $11.20/hour.

That’s according to the Living Wage Calculator created by Amy K. Glasmeier, a professor of urban planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Below are estimates of how much each adult in various-sized households needs to make in order to pay for basic monthly living expenses. Keep in mind that these figures are estimated statewide averages. The actual cost of things in California, of course, varies significantly, by region. Whereas rent in Stockton may be lower than what’s shown here, San Francisco’s average rent is, well, fuggedaboutit!

All estimates below are based on Glasmeier’s calculator, which uses government data to estimate average living wage expenses for every state and county in the country.

As Glasmeier notes, consider results a minimum cost threshold, and likely an underestimate for metropolitan areas and other higher cost areas. Additionally, you many notice that households with two adults and children are listed as having lower costs than households with one adult and children. The discrepancy is due to child care costs: two adult households — with one sole earner — assume one adult stays home with the children.

(Additional methodology explained below charts.)

Methodology (as explained by MIT’s Glasmeier):

The calculator lists typical expenses, the living wage and typical wages for the selected location … The tool is designed to provide a minimum estimate of the cost of living for low wage families. The estimates do not reflect a middle class standard of living. The realism of the estimates depend on the type of community under study. Metropolitan counties are typically locations of high cost. In such cases, the calculator is likely to underestimate costs such as housing and child care. Consider the results a minimum cost threshold that serves as a benchmark, but only that. Users can substitute local data when available to generate more nuanced estimates. Adjustments to account for local conditions will provide greater realism and potentially increase the accuracy of the tool. As developed, the tool is meant to provide one perspective on the cost of living in America.

How California’s Prop. 8 Clawed its Way Up to the Supreme Court

Includes multimedia visualization

How did the Prop. 8 case go all the way from California to the U.S. Supreme Court? Scroll through this interactive to trace the path. Use the arrows to advance, and zoom in to blow-up text size and images. It can also be viewed in full screen mode (click on bottom left button).

Abigail Fisher’s Fight with Affirmative Action

Includes interactive timeline

Update July 24: The Supreme Court sent a challenge to the University of Texas’ affirmative action admissions process back to a lower court.

The compromise ruling throws out the decision by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the Texas admission plan.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said the appeals court did not test the Texas plan under the most exacting level of judicial review. He said such a test is required by the court’s 2003 decision upholding affirmative action in higher education.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the lone dissenter.


Next week the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision on the constitutionality of race-based admissions policies at public universities. It will be the latest ruling in a long history of challenges to various affirmative action efforts. Specifically, the court will determine whether the goal of greater racial diversity on campus justifies preferential treatment for minority applicants.

Abigail Fisher, a white honors student who was rejected from the University of Texas in 2008, didn’t think so. She sued the school, claiming that its race-conscious admissions policy unfairly favored black and Hispanic applicants over whites and Asians. She said:

“There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in who were being accepted into UT, and the only difference between us was the color of our skin… For an institution of higher learning to act this way makes no sense to me.”

The case came before the Supreme Court last October. The court’s upcoming ruling could have broad implications for universities and employers around the country.

Scroll through the timeline below for a history of game-changing events in the evolution of affirmative action.

(Best viewed in full screen mode

10 of the Biggest Government Leaks in U.S. History

Includes interactive timeline

Edward Snowden, who leaked information to reporters earlier this month about the U.S. National Security Administration’s classified surveillance program, follows in the footsteps of a long line of government informants who have shared top secrets with the press and helped shake up the establishment. To some they’re considered heroes, to others traitors. To journalists, and the media at large, these stories are pretty much the holy grail.

Best viewed in full-screen mode

Where Does Your T-Shirt Come From? Follow Its Global Journey

Includes interactive visualization (Prezi)

Best viewed in full screen mode

A simple cotton T-shirt doesn’t seem quite so simple when you try to trace the vast global process involved in making it.

The extraordinary success of fast fashion giants like H&M, Zana and Forever 21 lies squarely in the ability to produce a massive amount of clothing – billions of garments a year – in the cheapest, quickest way possible. It seems pretty counterintuitive that the least expensive way to make a shirt is to buy cotton grown in Texas, mill and dye it in China, manufacture it in Bangladesh, and then ship it half a world away to an H&M or Gap store in San Francisco.  But when you factor in the dramatically lower labor and material costs offered by suppliers in developing countries, this kind of global supply chain model begins to make more sense. Continue reading

Why America Stopped Making Its Own Clothes

Includes data visualization and video

Try this on for size:

In 1960, an average American household spent over 10 percent of its income on clothing and shoes – equivalent to roughly $4,000 today. The average person bought fewer than 25 garments each year. And about 95 percent of those clothes were made in the United States.

Fast forward half a century.

Today, the average American household spends less than 3.5 percent of its budget on clothing and shoes – under $1,800. Yet, we buy more clothing than ever before: nearly 20 billion garments a year, close to 70 pieces of clothing per person, or more than one clothing purchase per week.

Oh, and guess how much of that is made in the U.S.: about 2 percent.

Browse through the timeline below to see how dramatically the cost and origin of our clothing has changed. And then continue reading to find out why.

Continue reading