How Do We Solve North Korea? Yonsei University Students Have Ideas.

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, Policy & Politics

I gave a guest lecture today to an East Asian international relations course at Yonsei University in Seoul. As part of the class, the more than 40 students participated in an exercise by answering this question about North Korea:

How do we address the North Korea nuclear issue?
1. Accept as nuclear state
2. Strike known nuclear targets
3. International sanctions
4. Suspend U.S. military drills
5. Diplomacy
6. Two of above: __ & __

Here are the results:

Assessing Global Health in Four Key Diseases

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Demographics, Policy & Politics

While reporting on South Korea’s high suicide mortality rate recently, I discovered an unique data set maintained by the World Health Organization.

It contains the probability that residents in each country will die from four noncommunicable diseases between the ages of 30 and 70. These are diseases such as cancer, chronic respiratory illness, heart disease and diabetes. They can offer clues about a country’s overall health.

This type of illness are often caused by “modifiable risk factors”, according to the organization, such as tobacco use, alcohol abuse, unhealthy diet, obesity, high blood pressure, etc.

“This invisible epidemic is an under-appreciated cause of poverty and hinders the economic development of many countries,” according to a statement on the organization’s website. “The burden is growing — the number of people, families and communities afflicted is increasing.”

The probability ranges wildly by country and region. Papua New Guinea tops the list with a 36% probability that its residents will die before age 70 from one of these four diseases.

South Korea, which has the industrialized world’s highest suicide mortality rate, largely propelled by its elderly population, shares with Iceland the lowest probably rate: 8.3%.

The rate in the United States is 13.3%, below the global average from this study, which is 18.8%, but still wedged between Panama and Slovenia.

Here’s how the different regions (as classified by the organization) differ:

And here are the countries, separated by region and sorted by highest probability:

Image of the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva via Wikimedia Commons.

Testing ai2html on a North Korean Defector

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: mapping, North Korea, Policy & Politics, South Korea

A few weeks ago I wrote about the daring defection — and eventual rescue — of a North Korean soldier who barreled across the Demilitarized Zone in a truck and then ran as fellow troops fired on him. The story centers on a dramatic video of the ordeal released by United Nations command.

The video, shot the afternoon of Nov. 13, shows the soldier speeding down a road toward the Joint Security Area, a border outpost that’s been the site of military skirmishes and diplomatic talks between the Koreas, still technically at war, and the U.S.

The soldier can be seen driving in a green military-style vehicle past a North Korean checkpoint before wheeling past a monument inside the area, where soldiers from both sides of the conflict are posted in relatively close proximity. The footage is a series of videos taken from different cameras at different angle.

The video fascinated me, but I found myself wanting someone to explain the sequences more clearly, so I started crafting a graphic in my free time to annotate the defector’s journey. I tried this using the ai2html tools created by The New York Times that are built into NPR’s dailygraphics rig. After a visit to the location with United States forces last week, I’m confident the graphic is accurate. I’m less confident, unfortunately, in its storytelling, design or technical merit.

Oh, well. Your first try with a new tool is never perfect — especially when this work is just a hobby.

Try it on desktop, tablet and mobile — and let me know if you have thoughts.

North Korean ‘Provocations’ Freeze During Winter?

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, Policy & Politics

Last week I posted a visual timeline highlighting nuclear, missile and other “provocations” by the North Korean regime since 2006. The data show a clear escalation, especially in missile tests, since Kim Jong Un took power in late 2011.

It’s been more than 70 days, though, since the last provocation. The most-recent incident was the firing of an intermediate-range ballistic missile — most likely the Hwasong-12 — over Japanese territory into the Pacific Ocean. It was the latest in a flurry of tests this year.

Some, though, have been heartened by this slowdown in recent weeks, suggesting that tensions between the United States and North Korea might be cooling.

What actually might be happening, however, is that the temperature is cooling in Pyongyang, as Adam Taylor noted in The Washington Post today.

Here’s an updated version of the timeline, showing just the Kim Jong Un era:

And this simple bar chart, which categorizes provocation dates into common seasonal quarters, shows that Pyongyang’s efforts seem to cool, if you will, late in the year under Kim’s leadership:

Before/After Imagery: American Military Base in South Korea Dramatically Expands

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Policy & Politics, Social Media

When President Trump came to South Korea earlier this month, he spoke to troops at the U.S. Army garrison known as Camp Humphreys — 40 miles south of Seoul — rather than at Yongsan, the main military headquarters in the center of the capital city.

Humphreys has gradually become the hub for American forces on the peninsula, and by next year most most of them will be stationed south of the Han River, which dissects Seoul, under a relocation agreement reached more than a decade ago.

A 3,500-acre base, Humphreys has dramatically expanded over time and is now the largest United States military installation overseas. It houses more than 10,000 soldiers — with a total population of more than 25,000, including families and South Korean troops — and has one of the busiest military airfields in Asia.

See the transformation:

CREDIT: Before/after tool created by NPR Visuals.

Visualizing South Korea’s Assailed Trade Relationship With The U.S.

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Economy & Finance, Policy & Politics, South Korea

President Trump isn’t happy with the United States’ bilateral trade agreement with South Korea.

His main concern, it seems, is that the United States has suffered a “trade deficit”. That means South Korea — a key ally in East Asia on security issues, not just trade — has been exporting more goods to the United States than it has been importing.

In 2016, this deficit was about $23.2 billion.

That’s a big figure, but the United States has a big economy. In context, it’s not much.

Before we get to why that matters, here’s a look South Korea’s trade balances with the world’s largest economies last year. It had surpluses with China ($37.5 billion), its main export customer, Hong Kong ($31.2 billion) and the United States ($23.2 billion), among others.

It had trade deficits of its own with some economically powerful countries, by the way, most significantly Japan (-$21.3 billion), Germany (-12.4 billion) and Saudi Arabia (-$10 billion). Take a look:

It’s important to note that trade balances sometimes vary based on the products each country sells and each country’s relative slice of the global economy, not necessarily trade agreements in their early stages. (China is an exporting powerhouse that sells mass quantities of cheap goods to almost everyone. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, sells pricey oil. The nature of that trade is already imbalanced).

It’s also critical to think about each country’s balance in the context of its overall trade with South Korea.

The United States has that $23 billion deficit, as Trump and others in the United States have noted recently. It imports about $66.4 billion from South Korea and exports about $43.2 billion. A key departure point is automobiles. (You don’t see many American cars on the roads here in Seoul, where I live). Regardless of why, the deficit represented about 21 percent of the overall trade in 2016.

That’s a significant (and growing) figure, but how does it compare relative to other countries?

When normalized, Egypt, Hong Kong, Turkey, Poland, India, Mexico, Belgium and Norway had more unbalanced trade relationships with South Korea than the United States did last year.

Here’s a look at South Korea’s various trade balances with the world’s largest economies, over time, as a percentage of each nation’s overall trade relationship. While South Korea enjoys a trade surplus with the United States, it’s relatively modest in the context of the overall volume — on par with Brazil, China and Thailand, for example.

I’m not saying Trump is wrong to worry about whether the United States has an equal trade relationship with this one trading partner. There’s just a piece of the picture, perhaps, missing from the discussion — even before you consider whether picking an economic fight with a regional security ally is smart policy right now.

[Image from Misaeng (season one, episode 11). It’s an old K-drama I’m just watching now.]

Visualizing North Korea’s Missile Launches

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, Policy & Politics, South Korea

Despite international objections, North Korea has launched four ballistic missiles in the last week, including one that flew over Japan, raising regional tensions about the rogue state’s weapons development even higher.

For those of us who live in South Korea, such provocations have become commonplace, especially since the North’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, took over after his father’s death in late 2011. They interrupt Sunday breakfasts or even national holidays, but they haven’t yet seemed like a real threat.

(Of course, they can just use their ample artillery along the border to strike Seoul, where I live).

The missile testing pace and the North’s increasingly technically ability have increased significantly in the last years, however, causing more and more heartburn in the region.

This chart shows the pace of testing over the years, including missiles that “failed” in flight:

The North has over the years developed (and borrowed) its own set of missiles, each with varying capabilities. Lately they’ve grown more powerful, though not always reliable.

Here’s how often they’ve used them, by missile type:

Since 1984, there have been at least 115 missile launches. But those tests have come from a select group of locations around the North: airfields and testing sites. Here are those tests locations, aggregated, with larger bubbles representing more launches:

And this map shows each launch in time order, with a flurry beginning in 2013. Colors change based on the missile type:

This is just a quick post, created largely because I wanted to build another proportional symbols map with D3. For a more thorough analysis, check out this post.

Chart: If Ousted, Jeff Sessions Would Have a Historically Short Tenure

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Policy & Politics

If President Trump decides after all to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was approved just 166 days ago, the former Alabama senator would have one of the shortest tenures in history.

More than 80 Americans have been the nation’s top law enforcement officer as cabinet members, rather than acting placeholders. That list includes 39 Republicans and 30 Democrats. Another 13 attorneys general from other parties (Whig, Federalist, etc.) have also held the office.

The average tenure has been about 978 days — or roughly 2.5 years. Now it appears Sessions could get ousted after less than a half year.

Only two others have served shorter terms. One, Elliot Richardson, resigned in protest while serving under Richard Nixon during Watergate. The other, Edwin Stanton, took office in the tumultuous months before Abraham Lincoln became president.

Here’s the list, sorted from longest-to-shortest tenure:

Mapping Opposition to the GOP Health Care Bill by Congressional District

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Demographics, Policy & Politics

The legislative failure of the GOP’s replacement for Obamacare has been widely reported, obviously, but I remain interested in one bit of polling noted this week by FiveThirtyEight.

The polling firm YouGov estimated the legislation’s unpopularity by congressional district. The bill itself was quite unpopular, it turns out, even in conservative districts, as FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver reported.

Thanks to DailyKos Elections, we can also marry the data with President Donald Trump’s vote share in each district.

I’ve been experimenting with maps in D3.js, and I hadn’t yet tried congressional districts. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity, even if thematic maps aren’t particularly useful in this context (because congressional districts vary in size geographically, such maps can be misleading).

Case in point: The national map of congressional districts, with Republicans in red and Democrats in blue . As we all know, Democratic districts tend to be smaller in terms of area and clustered in more densely populated places. So they don’t get a particularly fair representation on a map:

Consider these two treemaps. This first shows members of the U.S. House by party (with some vacancies in gray). Shapes are sized based on the average population of each congressional district: roughly 710,000 people, give or take five percent. The House has 237 Republicans, 193 Democrats and five vacancies. There’s clearly a red majority, but it’s relatively close:

This treemap, however, shows the geographic area in square miles. Now you see the distortion:

OK, you get it. So let’s see how the health care opposition looks on maps.

Maps: Where Are America’s Alternative Fuel Stations?

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Policy & Politics

I recently stumbled upon the U.S. Department of Energy’s alternative fuels data center, a clearinghouse for information on transportation technology. Inside there’s a handy station locator tool allowing users to find fueling centers for specific types of vehicles.

Perfect for a quick map exercise: