Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Global Peace Index 2010

Vision of Humanity is out with their 2010 Global Peace Index, a rating of the "state of peace" in 249 nations around the world:

2010 global peace index map

Each of 149 countries are ranked on a five-point scale for 23 indicators, including, e.g., number of homicides; access to weapons; political instability; deaths from conflict (internal); weapons exports; number of displaced people; and number of conflicts fought.

So what is the most peaceful nation in the world? Those honors go to plucky, placid New Zealand for the second year in a row. (Being small, wealthy, and surrounded by ocean would tend to keep the dander down, I'd imagine.) The rest of the top 10:

2. Iceland
3. Japan
4. Austria
5. Norway
6. Ireland
7. Denmark
8. Luxembourg
9. Finland
10. Sweden

All ten of the most peaceful nations in the world are also among the most wealthy; the top three are all island nations. And - do I even need to mention it? - the entirety of Scandinavia is represented here.

The bottom of the scale is a bit more eclectic:

140. Democratic Republic of the Congo
141. Chad
142. Georgia
143. Russia
144. Israel
145. Pakistan
146. Sudan
147. Afghanistan
148. Somalia
149. Iraq

A smattering of countries from the former USSR, Central/South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Some very poor countries, others (Russia, Israel) middle-income or higher. Peace comes in just one flavor, it would seem; conflict comes in many.

Some other country rankings I choose to highlight for my own capricious reasons: Germany (16), UK (31), France (32), Botswana (33), Laos (34), Bhutan (36), Vietnam (38), Sierra Leone (53), China (80), US (85), Kazakhstan (95), Iran (104), Mexico (107), South Africa (121), Thailand (124), India (128), North Korea (139). The report notes the top five risers on the list since 2009 (Ethiopia, Mauritania, Hungary, Lebanon, and Haiti), as well as the five biggest fallers (Cyprus, Russia, Philippines, Georgia, and Syria). The complete list is here (pdf), along with regional analyses and discussions of the top and bottom 10. Inexplicably, and a bit annoyingly, the folks at VoH continue to leave the beautiful and glorious Kyrgyz Republic off their rankings, along with a handful of other countries.

You can play with their map, which has a slider showing their rankings back to 2007, and also view maps for each of the component indicators. One trend I notice: a slight but steady movement towards greater peace in Africa. Is this just a blip, or the beginning of a long-term trend? It would certainly be wonderful if it were the latter.

I discussed the 2009 version of the map here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Map Animation of the Atomic Age

Via Boing Boing and The New Yorker, a map animation that shows every detonation of a nuclear bomb until 1998, by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto:

Says The New Yorker:
It is the sort of set of pictures that makes you want to read—to learn more, for example, about how it came to be that France exploded more than a tenth of those bombs (two hundred and ten); China blew up forty-five. Not that anyone was taking cover in Provence: if you don’t watch the icons above and below the map, you might think that Algeria, and not France, was the world’s fourth nuclear-armed power (and that Australia, not Britain, was the third). The Gerboise Bleue explosion, of a seventy-kiloton device, took place in 1960, in the Sahara desert, in the midst of the Algerian war; several others followed. (Later, after Algeria gained its independence, France’s tests moved to French Polynesia; its last one was in 1996.)
It's a wonder Nevada's even still habitable - though I guess you could make an argument that it's not, really...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Russia's Portentous Summer

Jeff Masters says, "one of the most remarkable weather events of my lifetime is unfolding this summer in Russia" where the current heat wave is pretty much entirely off the historical charts. For comparison, the 2003 heat wave across Western Europe killed more than 40,000 people - and the present heat wave in Russia is far more extreme than that:

Says Masters:
The past 25 days in a row have exceeded 30°C (86°F) in Moscow, and there is no relief in sight--the latest forecast for Moscow calls for high temperatures near 100°F (37.8°C) for the majority of the coming week. As I reported in yesterday's post, the number of deaths in Moscow in July 2010 was about 5,000 more than in July 2009, suggesting that the heat wave has been responsible for thousands of deaths in Moscow alone. I would expect that by the time the Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 is over, the number of premature deaths caused by the heat wave will approach or exceed the 40,000 who died in the 2003 European Heat Wave. As seen in Figure 2, the Russian heat wave of this year is more intense and affects a wider region than the great 2003 heat wave, though the population affected by the two heat waves is probably similar.
Another commentator writes:
To put this in rough perspective -- and note this is not absolutely precise, it's purely ballpark to give you some feel for what the Russian people are enduring -- if this heat wave was hitting North America, it would be near 100°F in Fairbanks, Alaska. Most of Canada would be baking at 100° or higher, the northeast, from Maine to the Great Lakes region would be hitting upwards of 105° everyday, even the nightly low in the massive urban heat islands of New York and Chicago would be over 90°! The midwest grain belt and parts of the Pacific Northwest would not see a drop of rain for two months and pushing as high as 110° in places. The desert southwest, even some of the higher elevations of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas, would be as uninhabitable as Death Valley or the Sahara.

It would mean nation-wide massive power brownouts, unprecedented crop failures, water rationing like you have never seen, record wildfires raging in dozens of states, thousands of deaths [Correction: Dr. Jeff Masters at WeatherUnderground informs me it would probably more like tens of thousands of deaths] and life threatening heat related illness, roads and highways clogged with broken-down, over-heated cars, and emergency services stretched beyond the breaking point across the US and Canada. The conditions could be so severe in places, especially if the wave persisted for a couple of years, that it could produce mass migration, i.e., refugees, the likes of which haven't been seen since the Great Depression.
Tens of thousands of deaths from the sort of weather event that will become more common as global warming continues apace. The usual caveat applies about the fallacy of attributing individual weather events to long-term climate trends, but needless to say, a warming planet will experience more severe heat waves. As Masters notes:
Looking back at the past decade, which was the hottest decade in the historical record, Seventy-five countries set extreme hottest temperature records (33% of all countries.) For comparison, fifteen countries set extreme coldest temperature records over the past ten years (6% of all countries).
Weather events like these heat waves have proven their capacity to have death tolls in the five figures. But perhaps the most ominous portent of the Russian heat wave has been the government's move to ban grain exports - a response to the decimation of wheat crops due to the wildfires and drought that have attended the heat wave. Natural calamity leading to resource nationalism, causing food prices to spike across the globe: this story will be written again in the decades to come.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Human Development and the US-Mexico Border

Andrew Sullivan links to a map from the 2009 Human Development Report, which uses HDI, the Human Development Index, as a measure of the general level of development for jurisdictions on both sides of the US-Mexico border:

us mexico border hdi map

As Steven Taylor notes:
What is interesting is that the lowest HDI county on the US side (Starr County Texas) is higher than the highest HDI municipality in Mexico (i.e., Mexicali).

This is, of course, likely not a shock to anyone paying even a modicum of attention to the situation. Still, it continues to underscore that fundamental aspect of this situation: it is the disparity of wealth between the two countries that continues to create the synergy of migration over the border. As I keep saying: any policy that ignores this fact will fail. As such, calls for massive deportations or that assumes it is possible to stop migration over the border is naught more than fantasy. “Seal the border!” is a slogan, not a viable policy.
That's true. It also points up what ought to be an obvious truth about immigration from Mexico and other relatively poor countries to the United States: it is comprised mostly of individuals who are driven by lack of economic opportunity to leave their homeland in order to exchange their labor for money. That many people feel so threatened by this class of people, which is already among the most powerless in society, has always baffled me.

Also: as long-time readers of this blog know, I like nothing better than using HDI for various countries as a frame of reference for apprehending the significance of HDI ratings for various sub-national jurisdictions! And so, here are selected HDI-comparable nations (based on this table (pdf) from the same organization) for each of the five HDI ranges indicated on the map (with countries listed in ascending order of HDI):

.636-.700 - Morocco, Botswana, South Africa, Tajikistan, Vanuatu, Kyrgyzstan, Guatemala, Nicaragua

.701-.765 - Uzbekistan, Honduras, Egypt, Vietnam, Mongolia, Bolivia, Indonesia, Philippines, El Salvador, Algeria, China, Georgia

- Dominican Republic, Jordan, Belize, Tonga, Ukraine, Thailand, Peru, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Serbia, Malaysia, Venezuela

- Panama, Bulgaria, Oman, Mexico, Costa Rica, Cuba, Argentina, Lithuania, Chile, Hungary, Malta

.896-.950 - Czech Republic, Portugal, UAE, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Israel, Germany, UK, Italy, Belgium, United States

Thursday, July 15, 2010

First Half of 2010 is the Warmest on Record

June 2010 was the hottest June on record, 1.22°F above average. So was the period of April-June, 1.26°F above average. And January through June - the entire first half of 2010 - were also the hottest on record, 1.22°F above average. A trifecta!

jan-june 2010 world temperature map

Pop quiz: what do these facts, and the giant oil spill and ecosystem carnage in the Gulf of Mexico, and the environmental damage and civil unrest in the Niger Delta, among many other sordid, disturbing facts about life on Earth in the early 21st Century, have in common?

George Will, among others, would say: nothing. Nothing at all. Because he does not believe that the world is warming due to our burning of fossil fuels; indeed, he does not believe we are in a period of global warming at all, as he argued in an editorial last year. He stated there that
according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade, or one-third of the span since the global cooling scare.
This assertions was factually incorrect - the WMO said no such thing - as were pretty much all of Will's assertions in the editorial. But what would make Will not only believe this assertion, but decide to broadcast it to the world from his extremely authoritative position as an editorialist for the Washington Post? Perhaps it was his interpretation of the fact that the ten warmest years on record, according to NOAA, have been, in order, 2005, 1998, 2003, 2002, 2006, 2009, 2007, 2004, 2001, and 2008. Or perhaps it's just his reading of this chart:

These data points pretty strongly suggest that the world is in a period of warming, and the record for 2010 is clearly continuing the trend. But to correctly understand the data that are being represented here, you have to meet at least two sriteria: 1) Have the statistical acumen and general intelligence of at least a second-grader; and 2) Not be a disingenuous toady for the fossil fuel industry. On at least one of these points, Will has obviously failed.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Coming Heat Wave Wave

The weather where I live - a large East Coast metropolis somewhere between Bridgeport, CT and Trenton, NJ - was notably warm last week, as it was for much of the East Coast. At Dot Earth, Andrew Revkin links to a study that predicts many more such heat waves in the future.

hot seasons us global warming map

On the study:
"Using a large suite of climate model experiments, we see a clear emergence of much more intense, hot conditions in the U.S. within the next three decades," said Noah Diffenbaugh, an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford and the lead author of the study.

Writing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters (GRL), Diffenbaugh concluded that hot temperature extremes could become frequent events in the U.S. by 2039, posing serious risks to agriculture and human health.

"In the next 30 years, we could see an increase in heat waves like the one now occurring in the eastern United States or the kind that swept across Europe in 2003 that caused tens of thousands of fatalities," said Diffenbaugh, a center fellow at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment. "Those kinds of severe heat events also put enormous stress on major crops like corn, soybean, cotton and wine grapes, causing a significant reduction in yields"...

In the study, Diffenbaugh and Ashfaq used two dozen climate models to project what could happen in the U.S. if increased carbon dioxide emissions raised the Earth's temperature by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) between 2010 and 2039 – a likely scenario, according to the International Panel on Climate Change.

In that scenario, the mean global temperature in 30 years would be about 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) hotter than in the preindustrial era of the 1850s. Many climate scientists and policymakers have targeted a 2-degree C temperature increase as the maximum threshold beyond which the planet is likely to experience serious environmental damage. For example, in the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Accord, the United States and more than 100 other countries agreed to consider action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius."

But that target may be too high to avoid dangerous climate change, Diffenbaugh said, noting that millions of Americans could see a sharp rise in the number of extreme temperature events before 2039, when the 2-degree threshold is expected to be reached.

"Our results suggest that limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial conditions may not be sufficient to avoid serious increases in severely hot conditions," Diffenbaugh said.
The study predicts that "an intense heat wave – equal to the longest on record from 1951 to 1999 – is likely to occur as many as five times between 2020 and 2029 over areas of the western and central United States." In other words, imagine you are 60 years old or so, and think of the absolute most extreme heat wave you've experienced in your entire life.

Twenty years from now, such heat waves will be occurring once every year or two.

And needless to say, there is zero evidence that we are prepared to seriously address the problem of global warming sufficiently enough to actually achieve the 2-degree goal. This is because we are a short-sighted, greedy, and not-quite-intelligent-enough species, and the world we bequeath to future generations will be severely damaged as a result. Very likely we will go down in history as a generation of obnoxious assholes who were too enthralled with our SUVs and plastic tchotchkes to make even the most minimally adequate moral calculations about our actions.

And if you think things might change once the effects of global warming actually start showing up in earnest... well, I have my doubts. Here is Revkin quoting social scientist Robert Brulle:
I’m up in New Hampshire, and the signs of climate change are everywhere, should you choose to see them. The strawberry season has already passed (it usually comes in late July), and you can now get fresh blueberries (3 weeks ahead of normal). The lake I am staying at has lost a lot of water clarity due to an excessive amount of tannic acid. The lake had its earliest ice out this year in memory, and so the leaves had had a longer time to decompose, thus releasing more tannic acid to the water. The water looks more like what you see in the Pine Barrens than in New Hampshire. These changes are all just taken in stride. Climate change remains something abstract and far away, both in time and space. In short, these changes are being normalized.
Cloudier lakes in New Hampshire today, an inundated Bangladesh tomorrow, and everything changing at the rate of one very slowly boiling frog. This is just a very difficult sort of calamity for our species to respond to.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Company You Keep

A provocative series of maps from Esquire's politics blog depicts the countries of the world according to a couple of controversial policies:

gays military capital punishment world map

The countries that ban gays in the military, according to Esquire, are Cuba, China, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uganda, United States, Venezuela, and Yemen

The countries that execute people are Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, China, Comoros, Congo, Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, South Korea, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe

And the countries that do both:

countries ban gays in the military and execute people

That is some pretty rarefied company for the United States: Cuba, China, Egypt, Iran, Jamaica, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Uganda, and Yemen. The US's only company in the Western hemisphere are Cuba and Jamaica. Other than that it's just a handful of countries in Africa, a handful of countries in the Muslim Middle East, and a few in East Asia. No European countries on the list. The only other developed country is Singapore.

But all this is likely to change as the gears of the military bureaucracy seem to be slowly but inexorably grinding towards repeal of Don't Ask-Don't Tell. In which case the US will join only one other country in the executes-people-but-allows-gays-in-the-military pile: Israel.

What I find most interesting here, though, is the matter of American exceptionalism. To the extent that this term refers to the tendency of the US to embrace more authoritarian-conservative policies, it turns out the US isn't all that exceptional - except within the Western World (i.e., for these purposes, Europe + Latin America + Anglophone settler countries). It joins with a geographically coherent coterie of nations in clusters across parts of Africa, the Middle East, and much of South and East Asia.

But these areas couldn't be more unlike eachother - politically, culturally, linguistically, historically, religiously, geographically... They just tend to be alike in embracing more authoritarian policies. This consistent authoritarianism just seems to be independent of any other variable. Odd. (Of course, you could also take the view that the anti-authoritarianism of Europe and Latin America and perhaps part of Africa is exceptional, and what needs explaining.)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Universe

Listen, I know it may be tough to keep up with my blistering blogging pace of late, but just bear with me... Here I give you a map of everything:

planck telescope universe map

The image is from a BBC News article about mapping done by the European Space Agency's Planck Telescope:
This is the extraordinary place where we all live - the Universe.

The picture is the first full-sky image from Europe's Planck telescope which was sent into space last year to survey the "oldest light" in the cosmos.

It took the 600m-euro observatory just over six months to assemble the map.

It shows what is visible beyond the Earth to instruments that are sensitive to light at very long wavelengths - much longer than what we can sense with our eyes.

Researchers say it is a remarkable dataset that will help them understand better how the Universe came to look the way it does now.

"It's a spectacular picture; it's a thing of beauty," Dr Jan Tauber, the European Space Agency's (Esa) Planck project scientist, told BBC News.

Dominating the foreground are large segments of our Milky Way Galaxy.

The bright horizontal line running the full length of the image is the galaxy's main disc - the plane in which the Sun and the Earth also reside.
One book I'm currently reading is Edward Casey's Getting Back into Place, which discusses the nature of place from a philosophical perspective. One of the book's themes is that our lived experience 1) always occurs in discrete places (as opposed to abstract space, for instance) and 2) our understanding of, or feel for, place is inherently a function of embodied experience. That is, it is only by virtue of being embodied beings that we understand places in the way we do. (To give one example, the verticality of certain buildings - think of the soaring cathedrals of Europe - evoke the natural verticality of the human form, and so we experience such buildings as inherently dignified, aspirational, and literally uplifting.) (Yes, I know that is a little broad and might sound vague or just weird. There's just no way to really do much more than gesture broadly like this. But check out the book if you're intrigued by this kind of stuff.)

And of course, one of the places we all share, and a place we are always in, is the universe. But what's odd about this place (well, among other things) - or in particular, what's odd about our experience of this place, is that it seems to totally baffle our intuitions as embodied beings. The scale is just so vast, it's literally incomprehensible. I mean, I can sort of imagine myself circumnavigating the globe. In fact, I have flown clear to the other side of the world. Which seemed like a very far way to go, but it was nonetheless a scale to which I could (barely) relate my own body: I can sort of imagine the world divided up into chunks on the scale of like a landscape that I might behold from a ridge, say, and thereby imagine the whole as constituted of so many chunks. Does that make sense?

Okay. But the universe is just so obviously beyond that scale. We can't imagine what a light-year is - we can't relate it to the scale of our sensory experiences in the way I just tried to do with the Earth as a whole (which was already pushing it). And it's 4 light-years to the nearest star. And the numbers! Are there 100 billion stars in the universe? 50 quadrillion? It really doesn't matter, because again, the numbers are so far beyond anything we can imagine in terms of our embodied experience that they are just meaningless. We hear numbers like this and we just think: really big number. We don't comprehend them in the way we can comprehend "3" or "8" or "100" or even "10,000."

Anyways, what's great about the map above (and the accompanying BBC video might help you to "read" it) is that it represents this greatest possible whole, the universe itself, in a way that makes it sort of comprehensible. Of course, the scale of the universe reamins beyond the ken of our intuitions as embodied beings. But this representation at least helps us to imagine the whole - to take it in, in a sense, like we would a landscape. And this must be to the good: this place is our home, after all. We ought to get to know it as well as we can.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Net Migration in the US

An interesting interactive migration map from Forbes shows net migration for 2008 for every county in the US:

us migration map

You can see migration to a given county from any other county in the country. E.g., 66 people moved from Dane County, WI (Madison) in 2008, and 34 moved in the opposite direction. Or: 149 people moved from Harris County, TX (Houston) to Queens, NY, but 449 made the opposite trip. Also, this being Forbes, matters economic are considered integral, so per capita income for migrants is also shown. This is pretty interesting, actually, as it is suggestive of the sort of moving involved: the average income for folks making the leap between high-tech hubs San Mateo, CA and Travis County, TX (Austin) was $74,500. For those moving from Cameron County, TX on the Mexican border to Clark County, NV (Las Vegas) it was just $12,900.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Has BP Ruined the Entire Atlantic Basin?

This video paints a dismaying picture:

Via Mother Jones, which says:
The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) just released this horrifying animation of how ocean currents may carry all the oil in the Gulf of Mexico. According to their computer modeling of currents and the oil, the spill "might soon extend along thousands of miles of the Atlantic coast and open ocean as early as this summer."

"I've had a lot of people ask me, 'Will the oil reach Florida?'" says NCAR scientist Synte Peacock in a statement accompanying the animation, which he worked on. "Actually, our best knowledge says the scope of this environmental disaster is likely to reach far beyond Florida, with impacts that have yet to be understood."

The models show oil hitting Florida's Atlantic coast within a few weeks, then moving north as far as about Cape Hatteras, N.C., before heading east.
One question I haven't seen answered is: at what level of dispersion is the oil no longer harmful? I assume that if a hundred million gallons were distributed evenly throughout the world's oceans, it wouldn't even be noticeable, and would biodegrade in no time. But somewhere between that, and the actual conditions we have - giant plumes and enormous sheens concentrated in the northern Gulf of Mexico - is the threshhold beyond which dispersion takes care of the problem. I don't know what that threshhold is - whether, for instance, the quantities shown swirling about in the mid-Atlantic in this animation would still be dangerous to ecosystems. At the least, though, this looks bad for pretty much the entire coast of Florida.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mapping the Invisible in the Jungles of Belize

Jungle. Ancient civilization. Lasers. Cool:


Says the NY Times:
A small aircraft flying back and forth above the ancient Maya city of Caracol, in Belize, used a laser to penetrate the dense forest canopy.

Viewed in three dimensions, the data revealed new ruins, causeways and agricultural terraces of the sprawling city. A detail [of a detail] of Caracol's city center is shown here.
Interesting stuff, but a little disheartening in a sense. The age of physical human discovery is truly over; nowadays all we get is laser-guided dispatches from the global panopticon.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hanging of the Parliament

So they went ahead and had those elections in the UK, as you may have heard. The result was a major victory for primary colors, as this Wikipedia map shows. (Blue = Conservatives; Red = Labour; Yellow = LD; assorted = regional and minor parties):

uk 2010 election map

The political parties, however, didn't do so hot. Oddly, though electoral politics is supposedly a zero-sum game, all three major parties managed to lose. The Tories fell short of the majority they were hoping for; Labour lost a ton of seats and had their worst showing in decades; and the Lib Dems, despite anticipation of major gains and predictions that they might crack 100 seats, actually lost a handful of seats. The Tories now have 305 seats, to Labour's 258, and the Lib Dems' 57, with the rest distribute amongst various regional parties and a Green. With ~323 needed to form a majority, the parliament is, as they say, hung.

For comparison, this is what the map looked like after the last election, in ought-five:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Whither the Spill?

Thither, according to an oceanologist from the University of South Florida College of Marine Science Ocean Circulation Group, which has modeled the forecasted trajectory of the spill:

The narrator is expecting the slick to get caught up in the loop current, which feeds into the Gulf Stream, which runs up the East Coast of the US. Says he:
It's not looking good for the whole Gulf and for the East Coast, really... All these arrows are pushing it toward the loop current and once that happens, well, all bets are off... I hope that the people on the east coast are getting prepared for this, and Florida 'cause it looks like it's gonna come your way. It looks like it's not just a Gulf Coast deal.
At the end he gives two pieces of advice: to say our prayers, and to keep the pressure on BP to "spend every dime they have" on the clean-up. I humbly encourage my readers to put more energy into the latter.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spill, Baby, Spill

Proving that you don't have to have centralized government control of your economy to wreak environmental havoc, that oil rig that blew up last week off the coast of Louisiana is causing problems:

So says Eric Berger:
Officials from Louisiana to Florida remain concerned about oil leaking from a Transocean rig that exploded last week in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11.

As crews attempt to stop the flow of an estimated 42,000 gallons a day escaping from a pipe about 5,000 feet below the surface, the oil slick has been slowly expanding across the Gulf.

Satellite images have helped officials track the slick as it swirls around the Gulf. Here's the best, most recent image captured by NASA's Aqua satellite.
That's a thousand barrels of oil a day, leaking up from the bottom of the Gulf where the rig's pipe snapped off (those are technical terms). And it looks increasingly likely that the only thing that will work to stem the leakage is to drill a relief well, but that'll take months. (Part of the problem is that the well is 5,000 feet down, which complicates any potential engineering solution, as you can imagine - but those are the sorts of problems you run into when you're scrounging under the earth's proverbial sofa for the every last drop of fossil fuel resources you can find.) The slick is already 80 miles by 36 miles across and likely to reach land within days. This thing could get very ugly for the Gulf Coast.

: Now it's 100 x 45 miles.

From the Times-Picayune.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

UK Election Calculator

The BBC has an election seat calculator for the upcoming UK elections:

uk election calculator

I will say this: UK electoral democracy appears to be pretty messed up. Like, US-caliber mess up. I say this because as you can see, I've set the calculator so that the 3 majorest parties all get just about the same percentage of the vote (a third each, if you want to check my math). Yet look at the seat distribution that results from that popular vote outcome:

See? Messed up. Everyone gets the same number of votes but the Tories and Lib Dems combined don't have as many seats as Labour. W, if I may say, TF? I assume this is a function of the Lib Dem vote being highly concentrated in ethnic areas? And the conservative vote being somewhat concentrated in rural areas? But I'm sort of projecting from the American political scene, so that may be way off base.

At any rate, the BBC's "poll of polls" currecntly shows the Conservatives with a slight lead: 33% to 29% for each of the other two parties. That would result in 285 votes fo Labour to 244 for the conservatives, and a whopping 92 seats for team yellow. Democracy!!!And since this would result in a hung parliament, I assume the High Court would intervene and choose the victor in a 5-4 ruling according to their own political predilections. What, isn't that how everyone does it?

Monday, April 19, 2010

So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish

The Aral Sea is just... about...

Gone. Another image of the sea from March 2010:

From the Huffington Post:
The drying up of the Aral Sea is one of the planet's most shocking disasters, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday, as he urged Central Asian leaders to step up efforts to solve the problem.

Once the world's fourth-largest lake, the sea has shrunk by 90 percent since the rivers that feed it were largely diverted in a Soviet project to boost cotton production in the arid region.

The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air. The sea's evaporation has left layers of highly salted sand, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan, and which plague local people with health troubles.
The story of the Aral Sea is the sort of thing you want to point to when people argue that technology and human ingenuity will save us from our own self-inflicted crises. The Shrinkage started with the Soviet Union's plan to divert the Amu Darya and Syr Darya to grow a bunch of cotton in the middle of the desert. Hilariously, the Soviets knew the Sea would vanish as a result of this plan - but they did it anyway:
''It was part of the five-year plans, approved by the council of ministers and the Politburo,'' said Aleksandr Asarin, an expert at the Russian State Hydroproject Institute who angered his bosses by predicting, in 1964, that the sea was headed for catastrophe. ''Nobody on a lower level would dare to say a word contradicting those plans,'' he said, ''even if it was the fate of the Aral Sea.''
Apparently Kazakhstan is working to revive what is now the North Aral Sea with some success. There's less hope for the southern sliver of the sea that remains. The water, already so salty as to have been rendered lifeless, continue to recede from the stranded fishing villages and rusting husks of Soviet-era fishing boats that used to subsist on the sea's bounty.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cities at Night

Via The Map Room, NASA's Earth Observatory posts some nice images of cities at night. E.g.:

el paso/juarez at night

From le text:
Border cities like Ciudad Juaréz, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, illustrate different city patterns side-by-side, suggesting cultural influences on the development and growth of cities and infrastructure. Ciudad Juaréz supports at least 1,300,000 people. On the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, El Paso is marked by the brightly-lit Interstate Highway I-10 that cuts across the city. Although the area of El Paso, with an estimated population of slightly more than 600,000 is roughly on the order of the area of built-up Ciudad Juaréz, the density of settlement evidenced by the distribution of lights is much less.
Taken April 7, 2003.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Taxi Taxi

No, not the decently high quality yet reasonably priced used clothing store on Westheimer Road in Houston, TX. Why would you think I'm talking about that? I'm referring to this map animation from the New York Times:

manhattan texi map

It's a heat map showing frequency of cab pick-ups at every single block of Manhattan for every single hour of the entire week. Animatable. Zoomable. Rolloverable for the specific number for any single block and a corresponding graph for the entire week. Really just a gratuitous display of data triumphalism from the Times who, one senses, are just sort of showing off at this point. This map, for instance, doesn't really tell you anything you don't already know - people take cabs in Midtown during the day, in the Village at night. But if you're of a certain bent you might find the sheer detail and comprehensiveness of the presentation here sort of jarring.

It does seem like we're approaching a point, rather rapidly, where almost any information about spatial conditions, processes, or events can be instantly translatable into cartographic form. I am looking forward to the day when I can zoom in close enough on Google Earth to see a real time image of myself sitting at the computer using Google Earth. The image will narrow in on the computer screen... closer, closer, until-

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mapping Global Happiness

Yet another entrant in the genre of happiness cartography, this time courtesy of Gallup:

gallup global happiness map

The survey of 155 countries describes respondents as "thriving," "struggling," or "suffering" according to the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. The scale is very straightforward - it simply asks people to locate themselves on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is the worst possible life for themselves and 10 is the best. The three categories break out as follows:
Thriving -- wellbeing that is strong, consistent, and progressing. These respondents have positive views of their present life situation (7+) and have positive views of the next five years (8+). They report significantly fewer health problems, fewer sick days, less worry, stress, sadness, anger, and more happiness, enjoyment, interest, and respect.

Struggling -- wellbeing that is moderate or inconsistent. These respondents have moderate views of their present life situation OR moderate OR negative views of their future. They are either struggling in the present, or expect to struggle in the future. They report more daily stress and worry about money than the "thriving" respondents, and more than double the amount of sick days. They are more likely to smoke, and are less likely to eat healthy.

-- wellbeing that is at high risk. These respondents have poor ratings of their current life situation (4 and below) AND negative views of the next five years (4 and below). They are more likely to report lacking the basics of food and shelter, more likely to have physical pain, a lot of stress, worry, sadness, and anger. They have less access to health insurance and care, and more than double the disease burden, in comparison to "thriving" respondents.
The patterns are familiar from other similar surveys: overall the Americas tend to be happiest (a median of 42% of respondents are thriving), followed by Europe (29%), Asia (17%), and Africa (8%).

The five most satisfied countries in the world are - say it with me now - the Scandinavian countries of Denmark (82% thriving), Finland (75%), Norway (69%), and Sweden (68%), plus the Netherlands (68%). The highest in the Western Hemisphere is Costa Rica (63%), followed by Canada (62%), Panama (62%), Brazil (58%), and the United States (57%). Asia is led by New Zealand (63%), Israel (62%), and Australia (62%). The least satisfied are mostly in Africa - Togo (1%), Burundi (2%), and Comoros (2%) are the least satisfied countries in the world. Meanwhile, the big Asian countries are surprisingly low on the scale: Japan comes in at just 19% thriving, India at 10%, and China at 9%.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fast Food Nation

Stephen Von Worley, burger cartographer extraordinaire, has created a map that presents fast food dominance across US territory in delectably manichean terms:

hamburger map of the us

Not wrongly, Von Worley frames the Empire of the Gilded Parabola as evil and (more wrongly) the other fast food outlets as a scrappy alliance of insurgents. Says he:
In this and the following graphic, each individual restaurant location has equal power. The entity that controls each point casts the most aggregate burger force upon it, as calculated by the inverse-square law – kind of like a chart outlining the gravitational wells of galactic star clusters, but in an alternate, fast food universe.

By far, the largest pocket of resistance is Sonic Drive-In’s south-central stronghold: more than 900 restaurants packed into the state of Texas alone. Sheer density is the key to victory!

The rebels already have the numbers – over 24,000 locations in total – but they’ve divided and conquered themselves by strict adherence to the peacetime principles of brand identity and corporate structure. This is war, and for the sake of self-preservation, all must be sacrificed! Kings and Queens: get used to hanging with the common folk. Tone down the sarcasm, Jack. And everyone, please, stop yanking Wendy’s pigtails! Y’all need to work in harmony to succeed with the winning strategy: an Alliance!
I.e., black space is McDonalds land. The only other contiguous territory of any real scale belongs to Sonic, across much of Texas and subsidiary areas. But Jack in the Box shows some strength in the Southwest, Burger King's got a far-flung string of outposts from the Southeast to the Northwest, and even Hardee's puts up a fight in the Carolinas. Dairy Queen, which I had always thought of as sort of the village pub of small Texas towns, actually looks to be even stronger in precisely the areas of the Upper Midwest which are most prone to actual blizzards.

Go to Von Worley's post to see another map that shows that as a combined force, the upstarts swamp the McHegemon.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pacific Tsunami

There was an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile this morning. That is one of the ten strongest quakes in history, and a hundred times stronger than the 7.0 that leveled Port-au-Prince last month. It struck a relatively unpopulated area, though, and also a far more developed country, so the damage and number of deaths won't be nearly as high as in Haiti. It was expected to produce a tsunami, however, and NOAA's West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center has a map showing the predicted energy of the tsunami as it crosses the Pacific:


They also have a map showing predicted arrival times of the tsunami. From the time of the earthquake it was expected to take 7-8 hours to reach Central America, 15 hours to reach Hawaii, and ~22 hours to reach Japan. They've issued a tsunami warning for the entire Pacific basin, though the tsunami isn't expected to be catastrophic.

The wave is expected to be about eight feet high when it reaches Hilo.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Olympic Medals Map

The NY Times has an interactive map of Olympic medals won by country:

vancouver winter olympics medals map

This represents medals won in the Vancouver Olympics thus far. You'll notice that the United States has a larger circle than Canada. This is because the United States has won more medals than Canada. I draw attention to this fact because the Canadians were all bragging about how they were going to win the most medals. Clearly they are going to fail to do so. Their hubris rankles; hubris belongs to Americans and Russians. In Canadians it is just... unbecoming. Also, as a United Statesian, it's fun to root for my country on the rare occasions when we are the underdog, like in the winter Olympics and the World Cup.

The map has medal winners going back to the first Winter Olympics in 1924. You can see that it was basically a meeting of Europeans, with a few odd North Americans thrown in, until the last few cycles. Now the North Americans are a much bigger presence, as are the Asians and even the bleepin' Australians, who need to knock it off with the excelling at sports all the time. Are there even any ski resorts in Australia?

Meanwhile, The Vancouver [de]Tour Guide 2010 team sends along their effort to google map some stuff of interest around Vancouver. They describe it as "a mixture of google bombing, counter-cartography and psychogeography that uses Google Maps to contest the online/offline representations of Vancouver during the Olympics." I link to them here mainly because I enjoy the words "counter-cartography" and "psychogeography."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The United States of Facebook

PeteSearch finds some patterns in the ways Facebook users are connected to each other:

The colored clumps represent areas within which users' friends tend to be found. That is, someone within Greater Texas, for instance, will tend to have more friends within that region than outside of it. Lines connect cities which tend to have more friend connections.

Says Pete: "Some of these clusters are intuitive, like the old south, but there's some surprises too, like Missouri, Louisiana and Arkansas having closer ties to Texas than Georgia." On Stayathomia:
Stretching from New York to Minnesota, this belt's defining feature is how near most people are to their friends, implying they don't move far. In most cases outside the largest cities, the most common connections are with immediately neighboring cities, and even New York only has one really long-range link in its top 10. Apart from Los Angeles, all of its strong ties are comparatively local.

In contrast to further south, God tends to be low down the top 10 fan pages if she shows up at all, with a lot more sports and beer-related pages instead.
On Dixie:
Dixie towns tend to have links mostly to other nearby cities rather than spanning the country. Atlanta is definitely the hub of the network, showing up in the top 5 list of almost every town in the region. Southern Florida is an exception to the cluster, with a lot of connections to the East Coast, presumably sun-seeking refugees.

God is almost always in the top spot on the fan pages, and for some reason Ashley shows up as a popular name here, but almost nowhere else in the country.
On Mormonia: "It's worth separating from the rest of the West because of how interwoven the communities are, and how relatively unlikely they are to have friends outside the region." The Nomadic West has much longer lines of connection than other regions, which is not terribly surprising. Socalistan is not simply Californiastan (or California for that matter) because the center of gravity clearly bends LA-wards. And Pete observes that Pacifica is "the most boring of the clusters."

All this, Pete notes, is "qualitative, not quantitative," so data caveat emptor and all that. Still, an interesting representation.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Gallup asked some people how satisfied they were with their standard of living, which yielded this result:

us satisfaction map

Says Gallup:
The 2009 satisfaction results are based on combined data for Gallup Daily tracking from Jan. 2 through Dec. 30, 2009, including more than 350,000 interviews for the entire year. The state sample sizes range from 632 in the District of Columbia and 878 in Wyoming to 37,203 in California. Forty-one states had more than 2,000 respondents...

Overall, 31 states showed an increase in satisfaction of at least one percentage point between 2008 and 2009, whereas 5 showed a decrease of at least one point (the greatest decrease, Hawaii's, was less than four points.) The remaining 14 states plus the District of Columbia changed by less than one point.
Now that just doesn't make any sense. Obviously things went downhill from 2008 to '09. Don't people know that? Don't they realize they must be less satisfied now than they were a year ago? Or is it that lean times make people feel more fortunate about their relative prosperity? After all, even now more than four-fifths of people who want jobs have them. That's 80% of the country that probably realizes they could be worse off than they are.

At any rate, it's interesting that the most satisfied states seem to be those that have been least affected by the recession, rather than the ones that have the highest standard of living. And for the least satisfied states it's the same deal: they don't have the lowest objective standards of living, but they have been hard hit by the current recession. I take this to mean that satisfaction, in this context, correlates with perceptions of change in economic conditions, rather than economic conditions as such. (Which makes some sense: if you have a net worth of $1,000, and you find a hundred dollar bill on the street, you'll probably feel a lot more satisfied than someone who's got $10,000 in the bank, but just lost $50,000 at the craps table in Vegas (Nevada, by the way, is the least satisfied state in the country).)

But overall there's not a real huge range from least to most satisfied. Nevada, like I say, is the least satisfied, but 69% there still express satisfaction with their standard of living. The most satisfied is North Dakota, at 82.3%, followed by South Dakots, at 80.8%. (The Dakotas, by the way, are the two ugliest states in the country as well. The reader may make of that what she will.)

BONUS FUN FACT: Did you know the Rolling Stones' (Can't Get No) Satisfation is only the third-best version of that song? It's true! Here's the best:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Russians Call it 'Sneg'

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: how much of the Northern Hemisphere is currently covered in snow, and can this information be represented in mustard yellow? Well, aren't you in luck:

That's from the Rutgers University Global Snow Lab. By way of commentary, Jeff Masters says:
We live in the United States of Snow. A rare Deep South heavy snowstorm whipped across the southern tier of states yesterday, dumping six-plus inches of snow over portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Even Florida got into the act, with up to two inches recorded in the extreme northwestern Panhandle. The snowstorm left 49 of the 50 states with snow cover, according to an article by Associated Press. Hawaii was the lone hold-out. David Robinson, head of the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, said that 67.1% of the U.S. had snow cover on Friday morning, with the average depth a respectable 8 inches. Normally, the U.S. has about 40 - 50% snow coverage during the 2nd week of February. January had the 6th greatest snow cover in the 44-year record over the contiguous U.S., and December 2009 had the most snow cover of any December on record. The current pattern of record heavy snows over the the Eastern U.S. is primarily due to a natural oscillation in the Earth's climate system called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO).
If one single person comments that this proves global warming does not exist, as God is my witness I will reach through the Internet and pop you right in the nose. I will then proceed to make a substantive argument as to why all this snow is actually just what you'd expect (in the short term) in a warming world, but I'd really prefer to not have to do that.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Reformed State Map of the US

A proposal for electoral reform from fakeisthenewreal:

electoral reform map of the US

It's neat and all that the US was the first modern country to adopt many democratic institutions - we did it way back in the 18th Century, before the French Revolution even. Bully for us! However, a side effect of our early adoption of 'democracy' is that we have a lot of weird anachronistic leftovers from the pre-1789 era. Slavery was one, but fortunately we finally managed to get rid of that. But other, less significant but still not insignificant pre-democratic inconveniences remain. This map is meant to address some of these issues. Says fitn:
The electoral college is a time-honored system that has only produced results in conflict with the popular vote three times in over 200 years. However, it's obvious that reforms are needed. The organization of the states should be altered. This Electoral Reform Map redivides the territory of the United States into 50 bodies of equal size.... [This plan] overrepresentation of small states and underrepresention of large states in presidental voting and in the US Senate. Preserves the historical structure of the electoral college and the United States unique federal system, balancing power between levels of government. States could be redistricted after each census - just like house seats are distributed now.
Fifty states, as you see here, each with just about the same population. Yes, this would help with the problem of the electoral college system for picking presidents, which is insane by any reasonable standard and without which we might have avoided a certain period of unpleasantness from 2001-2009.

But the real advantage is in the Senate. Right now, Wyoming has as many senators as California. Vermont has as many as Texas. That's just straight up retarded. It's certainly not democratic. And don't give me any of that crap about how it preserves the sovereignty of states as the Great and Omniscient Founding Fathers intended, because do you know why they ended up with this provision that every state have an equal number of senators? To protect regional interests from the will of the majority; i.e., to protect southern interests; i.e., to protect slavery from meddlesome northerners. (And like just about everything unseemly in American politics, it all somehow goes back to the legacy of slavery...) Nothing approaches this level of blatant anti-democratic institutional structure in the free world. What's more, we can't even amend the constitution to allow for proportional representation in the Senate: the Founders made sure of that by making it the one thing that couldn't be repealed by amendment. Brilliant! So we would have to hold a constitutional convention and start over from scratch if we wanted to reform the Senate in a way that would really live up to modern norms.

Or - we could follow this guy's plan: just take the scissors to the ol' state map and produce what you see above. There would still be two senators per state, but every state would have equal population, so representation would be proportional. A fantastic idea! This would be much fairer than the system we've got going on now. In particular, as it stands, rural areas are way, way overrepresented in the Senate; having two senators each for neo-states like SF Bay, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, and Dallas would remedy that.

As for the electoral college, it wouldn't solve the problem entirely. It would still be possible to lose the popular vote and win the electoral college, but at least it wouldn't be due to the fact that the smallest states get overrepresented in the electoral college (e.g., North Dakota gets 3 EVs, because of its 1 representative + 2 senators, though it only has the population to justify 1).

Of course, there would be some logistical problems in re-organizing state governments throughout the country. But bah, I say. Small potatoes: the senate is dysfunctional as it is and it is going to end up killing the country. My own personal choice would be for us all to just ignore the Senate until it went away, sort of like the House of Lords. But this plan strikes me as the next best thing.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Powers of Ten

The classic Eames film:

Because I'm feeling rather logarithmic this week.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Earthquake in Haiti

Some countries have been historically lucky. Some have been unlucky. And then there is Haiti. I've always rooted for Haiti - how can you not want success for the only country that was founded from a successful slave rebellion? But it's long been the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, historically scarred by slavery and colonialist exploitation, physically scarred by environmental degradation, and beset by countless natural disasters, including devastating floods from frequent tropical storms; and yesterday they had an earthquake which looks like it may go down as one of the most terrible disasters in human history. Jeff Masters has this map:

haiti earthquake map

Says Masters:
According to the USGS (Figure 1), 238,000 people near the quake's epicenter experienced violent to extreme shaking, capable of causing very heavy damage. A further 3.2 million people experienced very strong to severe shaking, capable of causing moderate to heavy damage. Another 1.3 million people experienced strong shaking, capable of causing moderate damage. Haiti's total population is just 9 million, so half the country's population lived in areas that received moderate to very heavy damage from the earthquake.
According to the BBC, the destruction is overwhelming in the area of Port-au-Prince. The Parliament building collapsed, along with some large percentage of structures in the capital. The Prime Minister believes more than 100,000 people have died, or are now dying, in the rubble.

This is the sort of disaster that can have really long-lasting effects. Of course, Haiti was already poor (though it had recently been showing signs of life), but this obviously increases the impact of poverty for millions of people, so many of whom must now be homeless and without jobs. And if the death totals are as high as the Prime Minister believes (or as high as one Haitian Senator estimated, at half a million), the number of disrupted families and communities, and the number of orphaned children, are on the scale that can have negative repercussions for a society for generations.

Oxfam would be a good place to donate to the recovery. The Map Room has more map links for the quake.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


The New York Times raided Netflix's queue data and came up with this:

netflix rental popularity map

It shows Netflix rental patterns by zipcode in twelve great American cities, plus Dallas. Shown above is the popularity of Gus Van Sant's Milk in New York City. They've got maps for the current top 50 rentals for every zip code in all 13 cities, which is kind of nuts.

A few patterns tend to recur. In particular (based on my limited knowledge of the geography of these cities, especially NYC, which I know best) a lot of titles seem to fit into one of three categories:

Movies that are popular in wealthy urban areas: the yuppie and hipster neighborhoods. Includes Burn After Reading, The Wrestler, Milk (they're not big fans in surburban Atlanta), Revolutionary Road (but suburbs, too), Rachel Getting Married, Pineapple Express, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, W., Sunshine Cleaning, Religulous, Man on Wire, and Mad Men: Season 1.

Movies that are popular in poorer or working class urban areas . Includes Seven Pounds, Twilight, Body of Lies, Eagle Eye, The Soloist, Wanted, Pride and Glory, Push, Obsessed, Transporter 3 (never heard of this franchise), The Taking of Pelham 123 (only 31st most popular in Pelham), and RocknRolla.

Movies that are popular in suburbs. Includes Gran Torino, The Proposal, Mall Cop, Taken (never heard of it), Defiance, Nights in Rodanthe (city people hate it!), Yes Man, Marley and Me, Last Chance Harvey, Australia, and Bride Wars.

Lots of movies don't fit any of those patterns, of course, including I Love You, Man, The Dark Knight, and Watchmen. New in Town is just hugely popular in Minneapolis and nowhere else. And The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is inexplicably popular pretty much everywhere.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Urban Growth Regulation in the US

Paul Krugman points to another be-mapped Brookings report, this one on the growth typologies of the 50 largest US metro areas. Here's the map Krugman posts - it shows typology of land use regulation by metro area:

city growth regulation type map

They found that cities followed a few different patterns of growth regulation regimes, which they classify into four orders:

Traditional. This covers 34 metros and 75 million people. In these areas, "planning and zoning remains mostly voluntary, few local governments engage in innovative land-use regulation, and state review of local plans is mostly absent. These are also highly 'fragmented' metropolitan areas with large numbers of local governments, each of which regulates land use based mainly on its own calculus." Densities are falling faster in these areas than elsewhere, and they tend to offer fewer housing opportunities for low-income residents.

Exclusion. These areas regulate against the construction of low-density apartment complexes, and "share a comparatively low use of tools to require that development 'pay its own way'.” Housing prices tend to be relatively high in these areas.

Wild Wild Texas. The Lone Star State is sui generis, its cities less restricted than any others in the country, partly because zoning and comprehensive growth plans are both disallowed for Texas counties. These cities have some of the lowest housing prices, but note that this report was from 2006, the height of the housing bubble.

Reform. These metros use a broad range of tools to regulate and manage development. Central cities in these areas tend to be more prosperous, with more college graduates and homeowners, than in the Exclusion and Traditional areas. (This goes for Texas as well.) The growth control group within this family has thte highest housing prioes in the country.

One thing worth noting is that, though the essentially deregulated environment in Texas is characterized by affordable housing and (in 2010) one of the least bad state economies (not saying much), this is largely due to the existence of uncharacteristically progressive regulations in the mortgage market which kept the housing bubble at bay in Texas' biggest cities. And, of course, the affordability of these cities has lots of external costs in the form of environmental impacts, particularly the worsening of global warming engendered by all that new sprawl. Meanwhile, the report says that reform cities generally offer the best opportunities for minorities (again, ca. 2006; but these areas are generally getting hammered economically right now); and that they succeed when they are oriented towards growth management rather than growth control, the latter of which suppresses development in already built areas.

Krugman makes a further point:
Oh, and someone will surely raise the claim that this shows that you mustn’t have “smart growth” policies because they cause housing bubbles. Can I say that this is deeply stupid? On one side, we’re supposed to believe that markets are efficient and wonderful; on the other, we’re supposed to believe that anything which constrains buildable land — which, you know, sometimes happens for entirely natural reasons — will send markets into wild irrational swings. Those poor, fragile, omnipotent markets, able to handle anything except mild government intervention …
I more or less agree with this sentiment, though I wouldn't necessarily call the opposing view "deeply stupid." I think that on the one hand, a truly deregulated growth environment is sort of like what Ghandi said about Western democracy: it would be a nice idea and we whould try it some time. Even cities like Houston have lots of regulations about how cities can be built, for instance, employing minimum parking space requirements that exacerbate sprawl. (I actually don't know if a truly unregulated city growth pattern would be a 'nice idea,' but it would be interesting to have one such American city as a test case.) But on the other hand, I think what you get from a radically free market in urban development is what you usually get from radically free markets: a tremendous ability to satisfy consumer demand in the short-term, plus horrendous externalized costs (environmental degradation, including global warming, and so forth) and other terrible consequences that tend to mount over the long term, and which private individuals have little incentive to account for.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Metro Monitor Maps

The Brookings Institution does this thing called a Metro Monitor. It monitors metros, economics-wise, and it comes with some maps. This one shows overall performance:

metro monitow overall performance map

It's based on four factors: "employment change from peak; unemployment rate change from one year ago; gross metropolitan product change from peak; and housing price index change from one year ago."

This one shows employment change. It explains itself:

metro monitor employment change map

And this one just shows straight-up unemployment:

metro monitor unemployment map

Says the accompanying report:
Nationwide, the recession is over—at least in the view of most economists in light of third quarter 2009 indicators. They revealed a real U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) increasing at a 2.8 percent annual rate, after four consecutive quarters of contraction. Most interpreted that rate of output growth, along with other signals such as increasing housing prices, as indication that the economic recovery is underway.

Yet the recovery seems fragile. The output increase may have resulted largely from the replenishment of manufacturing inventories and from temporary federal policies: the “cash-for-clunkers” program (already over), the first-time homebuyer tax credit (now extended through April 2010), and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s economic stimulus. As the effects of these policies recede, the recovery could slow or give way to yet another recession or a prolonged period of economic stagnation.

Real recovery in the labor market, moreover, remains elusive. Although output grew between July and September of 2009, the total number of U.S. jobs continued to decline. Payroll employment dropped by about 600,000 during the third quarter (about half the decline of the previous quarter), and the unemployment rate climbed to 9.8 percent by September. While the most recent national-level report showed a significant slowing of job losses in November, and a slight downtick in unemployment, the national economy still seems a long way from posting the sustained job gains that would meaningfully lower unemployment and boost incomes.
I'll be honest: this article seemed kind of boring so I didn't really read it. I assume it said what we all know - the economy blows and there aren't enough jobs. But it did helpfully put a few points in bold, so we can skip right to those:

  • Metro areas continued to register highly disparate economic performance even as the nation showed early signs of recovery.
  • Six metro areas—Albuquerque, Austin, McAllen, San Antonio, Virginia Beach, and Washington, DC—had regained their pre-recession peak level of output by the third quarter.
  • Recovery seemed to be underway in most metro areas, but job growth remained spotty.
  • The first-time homebuyer tax credit appeared to boost economic growth in nearly all metro areas.
  • The “cash-for-clunkers” program boosted economic growth in most metro areas, and probably accounted for the improved rankings of auto production-specialized metro areas.[By the way, it is the official economic analysis of The Map Scroll that the government's efforts to continue to encourage home and car buying is propping up a failed economic model and merely delaying the inevitable transition to a non car-and-sprawl based economy while squandering tax dollars in the process. Our qualifications for making this analysis are various and broad.]
  • The rate of metropolitan job losses in construction, manufacturing, and administrative services slowed considerably in the third quarter.
  • Home prices stabilized or grew in an increasing number of metro areas, but inventories of real estate-owned properties (REOs) continued to mount overall.
This report is from December. The next update will come out in March, and it will probably show improvement, though according to Paul Krugman, there's a strong danger of the economy taking another brody later in 2010. We'll see. In the meantime, So long, Florida, and thanks for all the fish!