Sunday, July 29, 2012

Best Graph Ever

I haven't added to this blog much lately, so I might as well post something different from my usual ramblings about music.

In 1869, Charles Joseph Minard published a graphic map depicting the march to, and retreat from, Moscow by Napoleon's army in the campaign of 1812/1813.  It tells quite a story.  19th-century French scientist √Čtienne-Jules Marey said that Minard's graph "defies the pen of the historian in its brutal eloquence"  Over a century later, statistician Edward Tufte opined that it "may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn."  It's certainly sobering once you realize what information Minard is presenting.  Take a look (click to enlarge):

You can click here for a larger view of the map than Blogger will let me provide.  I suggest taking a look at the larger picture - it will open in a new window.

The tan band represents Napoleon's army moving eastward, from the Polish/Russian border toward Moscow.  The size of the band corresponds to the number of men he had at each point of the march.  He began with 422,000 soldiers; he was down to 100,000 by the time he reached Moscow.  Parts of the French army split off from the main force at two locations.

The black band shows the army retreating westward, away from Moscow.  10,000 of the original 422,000 men lived to cross the border back into Poland.

The black "retreat" band is linked to a date and temperature graph along the bottom.  The temperature scale used was the R√©aumur scale, which used 0° as the freezing point and 80° as boiling.  It was 0° when the army left Moscow in the middle of October, 21 below zero (about -15 °F) by November 14, and -30 (about -35 °F) by December 6.

Minard has included more telling details.  Look what happens when the army has to cross a river.  The retreating army's crossing of the Berezina was particularly brutal; nearly half of the 50,000 troops on the east side of the river didn't make it to the west bank.

Minard's map is an amazing visual representation of what happened to Napoleon's army on this ill-fated campaign; it is stunning and horrifying.  Read it and weep - perhaps literally.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Another Mass Killing

Three days ago a young man armed with with a pistol, a shotgun, and an assault rifle opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58.  The shooter was captured almost immediately.  His motives are unclear at this time, although it seems fairly obvious that he has mental problems.  The country is shocked, horrified, surprised. 

Not me.

This is the United States.  Mass shootings and multiple murders have become part of our life.  They should be expected at this point.  Mentally unstable mass killers pop up every few months, like tornadoes do.  They're part of the American fabric.  Too bad, but that's the way it is.

Why are these mass killings so common in the U. S.?  Hell if I know.  I mean, we love our guns more than any other developed nation on Earth, and it's easier to arm yourself here than almost anywhere else on the planet.  And we don't seem to value mental health care as much as some other countries.  But that doesn't really explain it.  I don't know, except that killing as many fellow citizens as you can seems to be as American as baseball at this point.

I'm not quite sure why I'm writing this.  I'm not calling for stricter gun laws.  I personally think that would be a good idea, but it ain't gonna happen.  I might as well plead for laws banning tornadoes. 

I'm not shocked by this attack.  I'm actually surprised that people seem so surprised.  It's happened many times before; it will happen many times again.  When I read this in a year, there will have been several more "shocking" mass killings. 

It's America.  Get used to it.