Monday, January 20, 2014

A User's Guide to "Forty Maps that Will Help You Make Sense of the World," Volume II

In which Michael5000 continues what he began last week, viz., a commentary on that ubiquitous internet atlas of our times, Forty Maps that Will Help You Make Sense of the World.

A User's Guide to "Forty Maps that Will Help You Make Sense of the World," Volume II

Note: In cutting and pasting the images (at low resolution and for purposes of critique in a non-commercial forum, yo!) I included "Twisted Sifter's" own attribution.  They aren't live links here, so to see the original you would have to go to the original post and click through from there.

6. "Paid Maternal Leave Around the World"

Technical Merit: In terms of its cartography, this map is a perfectly competent illustration of its own subtitle.

Artistic Merit: None

Helps One "Make Sense of the World": This is another map designed to convey the point "the United States is different from the rest of the world," and it achieves that admirably.  The use of a darkened red further conveys the subtext that the United States is bad in this respect. In terms of making sense of the world, however, the map is crippled by the flamboyant meaninglessness of its data set: "known policies."  Known policies on maternal leave in the U.S. vary by state, for one thing -- federal system, yo! -- and several of the most populous states have generous maternal leave policies; and, although it is by no means universal, neither is it at all uncommon for UnitedStatsian businesses and organizations even outside such states to include paid maternal leave among their benefits.  Now, let us contrast this situation with that in, say, Bolivia, Mali, and Somalia -- or, for a better challenge, Saudi Arabia, India, and China -- and contemplate whether the the Known Policies in these lands are more of a comfort to the average new mother than the United States' lack of such Known Policies.

7. "The Most Common Surnames in Europe by Country"

Technical Merit: Dicey at best.  The choice of red type was unfortunate on top of the valentine-heart pastel base map, the text is poorly placed, and the font sizes are all over the place.  That last bit is especially important, because if you vary the size of the element you are using to display data, it implies that there is a difference in the data itself; in this case, for instance, it looks as though Garcia is more prevalent in Spain than Martin is in France.  Also: what are Luxembourg and Moldova, chopped liver?  Also, the mapmaker needs a do-over on Iceland.  Also, I get the constituent countries of the U.K., but the Faroes?  Really?

But on a more essential level: why a map?  Does this data benefit from being in a cartographic form, rather than in the form of a list?  Maybe/slightly/arguably, on the basis that the names are related to the underlying geographic pattern of European languages.  But then, why the lame base map, since the information would be put in a relevant context if you listed the names on top of a language map?  It wouldn't have to be fancy!  Different colors for Germanic, Romance, and Slavic languages would do the trick!

Artistic Merit: Bleh.

Helps One "Make Sense of the World": In an extremely limited way at best.

8. "Worldwide Driving Orientation by Country"

Technical Merit: Perfectly adequate

Artistic Merit: None.

Helps One "Make Sense of the World": Um, what?

9. "Map of Time Zones in Antarctica"

Technical Merit: Well, it's cute.

Artistic Merit: It is certainly very bright.

Helps One "Make Sense of the World": You realize, of course, that there are no time zones in Antarctica?  Time of day is, first of all, a human construct, and Antarctica doesn't have a meaningful human population.  Time of day, second of all, relies on the regular sun-up sun-down pattern that is so familiar to those of us on the inhabited areas of the planet, but which rather falls apart as one approaches the poles.

What people do on Antarctic bases is, they chose a time system and run with it.  What the person who made this map did, if he or she was being careful, was to find out what time system the various research stations use, and then extrapolate them out to the territorial claims (which are however defunct under international law) associated with those stations.  Now, this would be a highly defensible approach to take if someone was holding you at gunpoint, forcing you to create a map of the Antarctic time zones.  I imagine, too, that this map might gain a certain currency and possibly even, ugh, use value through being included in this collection.  But it won't help you make sense of the world.  That's because it's a map of time zones in Antarctica, and there aren't time zones in Antarctica.

10. Global Internet Usage Based on Time of Day

Technical Merit: I am not giving this one full shrift, as it is an animation and I'm just giving you a still.  In its full glory, it shows the course of a day and night during the northern hemisphere summer, and as the brighter swath representing daytime moves across the world, you can see that internet usage is more prevalent during the day and evening, and less so in the wee hours of the morning.  It is fun to watch.

On the pro side, it gives you a very strong sense of where the internet action is, and if you have a copy of the world population map on the table in front of you, or in your head, you can by comparison see some interesting things about where the internet is not.  On the snapshot above, I call your attention to the dimness of Nigeria and the West African coast and to the distinct invisibility of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and North Korea and, possibly, Swaziland.  On the con side, maybe, the actual data is obscure enough and granular enough that you have to take the whole thing pretty much on faith.  Any individual dot of whatever color, in other words, is pretty meaningless; the data only makes sense in the aggregate.  But then, in the aggregate is the way we're gaping at it, so that's cool.

Artistic Merit: Oh, I don't know if I'd call it artistic really.

Helps One "Make Sense of the World": Maybe a little?  And maybe if you study the animation at length, you would discover interesting quirks and patterns.  Maybe, I dunno, you can see Spanish internet use decline for the siesta or something.  But this is a problem with animated cartography: unless you have the power to stop, freeze, back-up, and run in slow-motion, your loss of control over the data tends to outweigh any advantage that the map gains in showing you the temporal flow.

Next Time Out: Maps 11 - 15


lamanyana said...

"several of the most populous states have generous maternal leave policies"

This seems a bit disingenuous. Only California and New Jersey provide paid maternity leave (Washington has enacted it, but the implementation keeps being pushed back) and at 6 weeks each, that still only bumps them up one notch on the scale in that map. And yes, some employers may offer more leave than mandated by law, but it's far from "common". (In all, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey, it looks like 11% of workers in the United states have access to paid family leave -

I'm not sure of your argument with regards to developing countries, either. Saudi Arabia, India and China all mandate paid maternity leave of some sort. Are you saying that this probably doesn't actually happen in practice? "Access to paid maternity leave" would be a better metric, certainly, though I suspect the US would still stand out in contrast to other developed economies.

lamanyana said...

Though if you take paid maternity leave in Saudia Arabia you don't get paid for your mandated annual leave that year, which certainly stretches the notion of "paid maternity leave" -
(Chapter X: Employment of Juveniles and Women)

Michael5000 said...

Well, an accusation of disingenuity is always a bracing thing to wake up to, lamanyana. I'm not entirely sure whether you are accusing me of naivete or of deliberately cooking the books, but either way three points seem salient:

I: In addition to the known policies of Cali, New Jersey, and Washington, a handful of other states including New York include maternity as a state qualifying for disability leave. In this instance, most people would not describe the benefit as "generous," but at this point I've got the first, third, and tenth most populous states under the "known policy" banner, which I will stand by as justifying my point.

II: We niggle on the definition of "common/not uncommon." Left-handedness and access to parental leave in the United States among employees in the private sector, both running at about 11%, seem like fairly "common" things to me.

III: You correctly parsed my argument relative to the six non-UnitedStatsian countries I mentioned. Prima fasci, I'd venture that expecting anything like 11% of women in Bolivia, Mali, Somalia, or India to enjoy the paid maternity leave benefits guaranteed by known policies would be deeply, um, disingenuous. I suspect that working women in Saudi Arabia may very well get the benefit of their known policy, but then there is a certain catch to Saudi known policies to women in the workforce, n'est-ce pas? China is the interesting one; probably the only safe bet is that implementation varies considerably over regions, rural areas vs. urban, economic sectors, and what-not.

IV: To return to the cartographic: your statement that "that still only bumps them up one notch on the scale in that map" is entirely correct. In terms of data display, that means it would bump them from SINISTER RED into the unremarkable grey that distinguishes the next two data classes. Well, as I said up front, the map is a solid exposition of its subtitle.

Now, if you are looking for an infographic that makes the (absolutely correct and indisputable) point that the U.S. has markedly less maternity leave benefits than other prosperous countries, let me recommend this simple, only slightly dated graph from the Wiki:

It isn't a map, but it doesn't need to be, and its data is more or less defensibly tied in with the actual experience of life on Earth.

Michael5000 said...

I guess that was four points.

Michael5000 said...

Now why, you might be wondering, would lamanyana and I be niggling over the definition of "common"? Well, golly! I couldn't say for sure, of course, but I suspect it is because we stand on different sides of the maternal leave issue. He, like all sensible and decent people of goodwill, is (I'm guessing) for it.

And I'm agin' it. Here's the paragraph I took out of the original writeup as distracting from the cartographic aspects of the case and saved in a file called "Unpopular Opinions." Now, as Mrs.5000 is complaining that she wants to see it, I'll append here:

[[And while we are contemplating this map's bland assumptions, by the by, indulge me in a minority report on the subject of paid maternal leave: I'm against it. I tend to see it as just another way that those with children, and especially those with lots of children, benefit themselves on the backs of the childless. This is of course in addition to the blatant tax penalties assessed for not having children: the fewer children you have, the more taxes you pay for, you know: schools and such. I'd be all for a paid sabbatical that anyone could take from time to time for any damn reason they chose, including supporting a newborn child. But I don't particularly love a known policy that allows anybody in the office who decides to have a child to dump their workload on me for a few months, while they essentially get paid for my work. There, I said it.]]

I thought this last Tuesday, when I wrote it -- but now lamanyana has shown me the Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey, which makes it very clear that the rise in family leave benefits in the U.S. has been carved out of general vacation time for all employees. DAMN IT!!!

Michael5000 said...

(note: I have probably spent about an eighth of my working life taking on a greater or lesser chunk of the workload of someone who was on family leave. THIS HAS NEVER BOTHERED ME AT ALL in the actual instance (in particular, I positively ~dote~ on my current work-sister's daughter and all that went into her early care and maintenance). It is only in the abstract, and as part of the overall system of polite contempt for the childless that it is part of, that it gets my goat.)

lamanyana said...

Sorry about the "disingenuous" - that wasn't the most carefully chosen word. (It was early and I was bitter about having to go into work on a holiday - partly to offset the fact that I'm not in that 11%.)

I guess I believe that there are legitimate medical and public health reasons to discourage women who have just had babies from returning to work immediately, but for a significant number of people that's the only economically viable option. I see paid maternal leave primarily as part of the public safety net. And yes, that safety net is assuredly not as secure elsewhere as that map suggests, but I do feel the policy difference is worth noting.

Beyond that, I'm supportive of more leave for almost anything: raising babies, epic geohashing world tours, DIY airship experiments, etc.

lamanyana said...

"I don't particularly love a known policy that allows anybody in the office who decides to have a child to dump their workload on me for a few months, while they essentially get paid for my work."

Well - under most family leave policies you should be able to take advantage of the same benefit simply by thwacking Mrs 5000 over the head with a frying pan; or if you have short term disability insurance, by thwacking yourself over the head. :)

Michael5000 said...

See, all that needs to happen to get me MARCHING IN THE STREETS for baby-raising leave is to write the legislation so it encompasses geohashing-tour leave. Public safety is a good argument too, although it isn't quite as personally inspiring.

My condolences on the double hit you took on this MLK Day: having to work, and having me free to gripe at you.

mrs.5000 said...

I will march in the streets against paid leave for the thwacking of spouses.

Nichim said...

I would feel perfectly satisfied with my federally mandated 12 weeks of unpaid leave, during six weeks of which I was able to access short-term disability insurance in the amount of 2/3 of my usual salary, if I didn't know that (or if people weren't always telling me that) EVERYONE ELSE GETS SWEET PAID LEAVE. But yeah, everyone should get sabbaticals. Use it to have a kid. Or use 12 weeks of it to have a kid and then go on a 40 week geohashing tour.
Thinking about it a little more, though: if my company was mandated to provide me with a year's paid leave upon the birth of my child, I would have felt that I had to stay home for a year following the birth of my child. And being home for 12 weeks was quite enough, frankly. Also, I wonder (and I'm not going to research, just wonder): is there an added level of employment discrimination against women of childbearing age in countries with extensive, mandated, paid maternity leave? Because, you know, if I were Nokia and I had to pay a year of leave to every woman I hired who decided to have a baby, every time she decided to have a baby, I might feel some incentive to think that young-ish women were "not a good fit" for my company.
Blah, blah, blah. I'd better pump out Zeke's milk and get back to work.