It’s Been a Hot Summer, Down Under

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Weather

My family is vacationing this week in Mosman, Australia, a harbourside Sydney suburb near Balmoral Beach known for its family friendly attractions and boutique shops.

This place is a great holiday spot. There’s only one problem this year, though: It’s been quite hot.

Sydney is normally relatively temperate during the summers, which occur opposite winters in the Northern Hemisphere. The average temperature in Celsius this time of year usually runs in the 25-degree range, or around 80 Fahrenheit. Today, though, was 35 degrees, or roughly 95 Fahrenheit.

Have I mentioned that our vacation home doesn’t have air conditioning?

We’ll somehow survive, but the heat did prompt me to scrape some weather data.

During the last month Sydney has experienced severe heat spikes, some of them eclipsing records and even fueling wildfires. Last January, typically the hottest month here, there was a similar pattern.

This chart shows the year in temperatures. The color bars show the range of each day’s highs and lows. The black step lines show historical averages. And the gray line shows the record highs.

America Imports Lots of Stuff from China, Including Christmas Decorations

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: China, Economy & Finance

Last year, the United States imported more than $460 billion in goods — clothes, toys, gadgets, you name it — from China. Of course, our Christmas decorations were on that list, too.

Some $2.2 billion in fake trees, miniature lights and assorted ornaments came from the Middle Kingdom last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s detailed trade database.

The Christmas trade in ornaments is big business. It skyrocketed in the mid-1990s (like all products from China) and dipped during the recession (like all products from China).

Here’s a simple chart:

Merry Christmas. 圣诞节快乐.

Visualizing More Than a Decade of North Korean Defections

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, South Korea

Another North Korean soldier defected at the Demilitarized Zone on Thursday, causing a brief skirmish along the highly fortified border. He was the fourth solder to defect this year, including the one last month who was shot several times by his comrades before he made it to safety in South Korea.

There have been tens of thousands of defections from the communist regime since the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War. Most don’t occur at the DMZ, a 2.5-mile buffer zone filled with landmines, guard posts and barbed wire.

Here’s a look at some of the demographics of those North Koreans who defected over the years.

This first chart shows the numbers of defectors since 2001, by gender. You can see that women have been more likely to defect — and that there was a sharp drop-off in defections beginning in 2012. That’s the year that Kim Jong Un, the grandson of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, took power. Coincidence? Probably not.

This next bar chart shows the defector counts by age groups, again while breaking out gender. It’s easier to defect when you’re young, I suppose.

And, finally, a provincial map showing where known defectors came from, with darker shades representing more defections. North Hamgyong Province had the most (more than 18,000), probably because defectors can sneak across the Tumen River — which forms about a third of the border between China and North Korea.

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:

Visualizing North Korean ‘Provocations’: A Timeline

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, South Korea

Until the recent incident involving a defecting soldier, tensions between the United States and North Korea had cool slightly, largely because the communist regime hasn’t committed any so-called “provocations” — ballistic missile and nuclear tests — in more than two months.

Under the North’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, such incidents have increased significantly as his nation seeks to improve its ability to strike targets with nuclear weapons. That effort has included dozens of ballistic missile tests and four underground nuclear detonations during his tenure, which began in late 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

This timeline, inspired by a graphic made by the NPR Visuals team, shows these provocations since 2006, when the regime tested its first nuclear weapon:

Common Ground Between North and South Korea: Aging and Shrinking Populations

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Demographics, North Korea, South Korea

The birth rate in South Korea, where I live and work, hit a record low this year, leading to concern about the impact an aging (and, eventually, shrinking) population might have on the nation’s society and economy.

These charts show the long-term trends, both in actual population and projected changes, according to United Nations data. I’ve added North Korea, which actually has a higher fertility rate today, for context.

First, let’s look at the populations of the two countries, which share an ethnic background and a (mostly) common language — despite the Korean War-era division of the peninsula.

South Korea has about 51 million residents, roughly twice the number of people in the North, which has 25 million. That’s the number of South Koreans who love in the Seoul metro area, by the way.

Both populations are expected to peak in two decades — and then begin to decline.

That downward trend, for now, is much more pronounced in South Korea because of the nation’s low birth rate. Having a large family in South Korea, where housing and education costs are pricey, isn’t possible or practical for many people. The nation also has relatively weak maternity leave policies (and stubbornly traditional gender roles in the home and workplace), leading women to postpone childbirth to pursue their careers.

South Korea is slightly smaller geographically (about the size of Indiana, in terms of area) than the North (roughly the area of Pennsylvania). So their respective population densities vary, too:

Here’s how South Korea has grown, in five-year-increments, since 1950 — when the Korean War began and ultimately changed the trajectories for both countries. South Korea saw relatively rapid growth rate immediately after the war, perhaps as refugees resettled. Projections show that rate declining by 2035:

The North experienced a rapid decline during the war, mostly likely from the death toll during the conflict, the political purges that followed — and the southern migration before the border was secured. Its growth rate soon recovered, however, but could begin declining again by 2045.

Here’s hoping the Korean fertility rate rebounds, or the two nation’s unify — or either becomes more welcoming and accommodating of immigrants. At things stand now, South Korea could become “extinct” by 2750 — a worrying (though simplistic and imperfect) simulation for a uniquely homogenous society that traces its roots back thousands of years.

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:

Charting North Korean Provocations. A Case of ‘The Mondays’?

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: News, South Korea

As a newspaper reporter living in South Korea, I’m always aware that a “provocation” by our friends in the North — a missile launch, a nuclear test, or some other incident — could occur on any day.

A recent missile launch came on a Sunday morning, for example, disrupting our family plans. (That’s part of the job, of course).

But which days have been more likely for provocations, I wondered? Thanks to a handy database from the Center for Strategic & International Studies, we now know.

Since 2001, North Korean leaders seem to prefer … Mondays?

The trend is clear in the data: Compared with any other day, provocations have been twice as common on the first work day of the week.

The data also reveal some interesting tidbits about the North’s provocations. Thanks to a recent surge in missile tests, the number of provocations has increased substantially under the new leader, Kim Jong Un, who took power in late December 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il:

The Center categorizes the provocations by type, too (though I broke our “exchange of fire” incidents from “Other” in the data):

And here you can see the interest in missile tests. Roughly half of all provocations since 2001 have been missile launches or tests (again, propelled in part by Kim Jong Un’s recent interest):

You can explore the Center’s great work here.

Charting NICAR Attendance, Over the Years

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: News

Next week is the Investigative Reporters and Editors annual CAR convention — the gathering of news nerds from across the world to discuss the latest and greatest in data journalism. This year NICAR, as its known among the nerds, is in Jacksonville, Fla.

After attending each year since 2006, I had to skip the convention in 2015 and 2016 because I now live in Seoul. But I’m making the long journey to Florida this year, and I wanted to know how many people would be there.

The fine folks at IRE graciously shared historical attendance data with me:

(I’ll be using this data, by the way, for our demonstration session on NPR’s dailygrapics rig — the visualization tool I use for this blog).

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: