Data Visualization #9–Non-ideal use of Stacked Bar Plots

Stacked bar plots (charts) are a very useful data visualization type…when used correctly. In an otherwise excellent report on the “Escalating Terrorism Problem in the United States” from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, there is a problematic stacked bar chart (actually, a stacked percentage chart) that should have been replaced by a grouped bar chart (or something else). Here is the, in my opinion, problematic chart:

The reason I believe this chart is problematic is because the chart could potentially obscure the nature (and trend) of the underlying data. The chart above is consistent with any number of underlying data patterns. Just as an example, let’s look at 2019 and 2020. We have the following percentage breakdown over the two years:

Type of Violence20192020

While it is obvious that ethnonationalist, and left-wing, violence have decreased (they are 0% in 2020), it is not clear whether right-wing and religious violence have increased, or decreased absolutely. Does right-wing violence in 2020 comprise 93% of 14 acts of terrorist violence? Or is it 93% of 200 acts of terrorist violence? We don’t know. To be fair to the authors of the report, they do provide a breakdown in absolute numbers later in the report. Still, I believe that a more appropriate use of a stacked bar/percentage chart is when the absolute number of instances is (relatively) static over the time/area of comparison.

Here’s an example from college football. The Pacific-12 conference has two divisions–North, and South. Every year each of the 6 teams in each division plays against 4 of the teams in the other division, for a total of 24 inter-divisional games every year. In addition, there is a PAC12 Championship Game, which pits the winner of each of the two divisions against each other at the end of the year. Therefore, there are 25 total inter-divisional PAC12 football games every year. A stacked percentage chart can be used to gauge the relative winning percentages of the two divisions against each other since the establishment of the PAC12 conference in 2011 (when Utah and Colorado were added).

Created by Josip Dasović

Here, each of the years refers to a total of 25 inter-divisional games. We can easily see the nature of the quality of the respective divisions by comparing the percentage of games won by each (over the other) between the years 2011 and 2019. We see that the North (which, by the way produced 8 of the 9 PAC12 champions during this period) has generally been stronger. In 6 of the 9 years, the North won a greater percentage of the inter-divisional games than did the South. And even in those years where the South won a greater percentage of the inter-divisional games, it wasn’t a much greater percentage.

So, use stacked percentage charts only when it is appropriate.

New Pentagon Report sees Climate Change as US National Security Threat

So, if you’re not convinced by the ethical perspectives on climate change, then maybe you’ll be convinced to take it seriously if you are told that it could make state less secure going forward. In a new report from the US Department of Defence (i.e., “The Pentagon”), climate change is seen as a “threat multiplier.” In the language of Homer-Dixon, this means that climate change is viewed not as an exogenous cause of conflict, but as a factor that could negatively influence hypothesized exogenous causes of both civil and inter-state conflict. This is how Bloomberg News responded to the release of the report:

Global warming will worsen many of the challenges the U.S. military already is grappling with, the department said in areport yesterday.

“We refer to climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today -– from infectious disease to terrorism,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a blog post. “While scientists are converging toward consensus on future climate projections, uncertainty remains. But this cannot be an excuse for delaying action.”

Here is the report in its entirely. I am also providing a video excerpt of an MSNBC story on the release of the report, which has the added virtue of including an interview with the author of one of the readings that I think at least 2 of you read for Wednesday’s seminar! The author is Chris Parenti, who has written an interesting book called Climate of Chaos.

No Torture. No Exceptions.


The above sketch by Thomas V. Curtis, a former Reserve M.P. sergeant, is of an Afghan detainee, Dilawar, who was taken into U.S. custody on December 5, 2002, and died five days later. Dilawar was deprived of sleep and chained to the ceiling of his cell—techniques that the Bush administration has refused
to outlaw for use by the CIA. Further, his legs were, according to a coroner, “pulpified” by repeated blows. Later evidence showed that Dilawar had no connection to the rocket attack for which he’d been apprehended.

One of the most important tenets of my teaching philosophy is to make the classroom a safe forum for diverse and competing points of view. In order to facilitate this, I believe that it is necessary, as much as is humanly possible, to refrain from promoting my own views and importing my personal biases into what I teach. I will temporarily put that tenet aside in order to address the topic of torture.

The United States government tortures. That’s a difficult sentence for me to write. The human rights organization for which I worked in Croatia during the 1990s–the Croatian Helsinki Committee–was at the forefront of the effort in that country to stop human rights abuses, such as torture, that the Tudjman-led regime was committing during those years. I would often find myself in debate with individuals–soldiers, police officers, government officials, religious leaders, and average citizens–about the human rights abuses the government was committing. My argument was basically, “we (in Croatia) are being hypocritical if, on the one hand, we claim that we are superior–in some civilizational sense (this is argument that was made, though I don’t adhere to it)–to the Serbs because we are more “Western” and more democratic, yet we allow our government (with our support) to commit absolutely horrific human rights abuses. We should try to mimic the behavior, then, of Western democracies such as Canada and the United States rather than the abhorrent policies of the Milosevic regime.”

My interlocutors would usually reply, “but, Canada’s, and America’s government would be doing the same thing if 1/3 of their territory was under foreign occupation.” I replied that they would not. I have to apologize to every single one of those people, because they were right and I was wrong. And it didn’t even take foreign occupation for the US government to begin to undermine the fundamental tenets upon which democracy and the respect for human dignity are based. My attitude towards torture is nicely captured by the title of a recent series on torture put out by the magazine Washington Monthly–“No Torture. No Exceptions.”

We’ll take a look at the debate on torture near the end of the semester (in intro to IR) and we’ll see that the strongest moral claim for torture comes from a consequentialist (or utilitarian) perspective; this is why the “ticking bomb scenario” is customarily trotted out to refute deontological arguments. I will argue (and I encourage you to try to prove me wrong) that there are consequentialist reasons for not torturing. I encourage you to read the essays in “No Torture. No Exceptions.” (In fact, if you’re in intro to IR, you’ll have to.)

Failed States and the Threat of Terrorism

In both intro to IR and intro to comparative, we’ve read about failed states and their impact not only on those living in them but those living even thousands of miles away. Rotberg, Krasner, and Sadowski, have all written about the potential dangers of states that do not have complete sovereignty over their territory. In another example of the potential threat posed by failing states, the Associated Press reports on a US attack on extremists in Somalia:

WASHINGTON – The U.S. launched a military airstrike in Somalia to go after a group of terrorist suspects, defense officials said Monday.

“It was a deliberate, precise strike against a known terrorist and his associates,” one U.S. military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the record.

He gave few other details, except to say the targets were believed staying in building known to be used regularly by terrorist suspects.

In the strike early Monday, Somali police said three missiles hit a Somali town held by Islamic extremists, destroying a home and seriously injuring eight people.

The strike follows one last year in which the U.S. shelled suspected al-QaidaU.S. Navy ship off the shore of the lawless East African nation. targets in Somalia, using gunfire from a

Leaderless Jihad–the Transformation of Al Qaeda

In PLSC250, we have discussed both Samuel Huntington’s prediction of the nature of the new world order (as outlined in his “Clash of Civlizations” thesis) and Yahya Sadowski’s response (“Political Islam: Asking the Wrong Questions”). David Ignatius has written an op-ed piece in the Washington Post today, which amounts to a book review of former CIA officer Marc Sagerman’s new book, “Leaderless Jihad.” Find some excerpts posted below. How does Sagerman’s view fit with the views expressed by Sadowski in his article?

Sageman has a résumé that would suit a postmodern John le Carré. He was a case officer running spies in Pakistan and then became a forensic psychiatrist. What distinguishes his new book, “Leaderless Jihad,” is that it peels away the emotional, reflexive responses to terrorism that have grown up since Sept. 11, 2001, and looks instead at scientific data Sageman has collected on more than 500 Islamic terrorists — to understand who they are, why they attack and how to stop them.

The heart of Sageman’s message is that we have been scaring ourselves into exaggerating the terrorism threat — and then by our unwise actions in Iraq John McCain, that, as McCain’s Web site puts it, the United States is facing “a dangerous, relentless enemy in the War against Islamic Extremists” spawned by al-Qaeda. making the problem worse. He attacks head-on the central thesis of the Bush administration, echoed increasingly by Republican presidential candidate

The numbers say otherwise, Sageman insists. The first wave of al-Qaeda leaders, who joined Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, is down to a few dozen people on the run in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. The second wave of terrorists, who trained in al-Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s, has also been devastated, with about 100 hiding out on the Pakistani frontier. These people are genuinely dangerous, says Sageman, and they must be captured or killed. But they do not pose an existential threat to America, much less a “clash of civilizations.”

It’s the third wave of terrorism that is growing, but what is it? By Sageman’s account, it’s a leaderless hodgepodge of thousands of what he calls “terrorist wannabes.” Unlike the first two waves, whose members were well educated and intensely religious, the new jihadists are a weird species of the Internet culture. Outraged by video images of Americans killing Muslims in Iraq, they gather in password-protected chat rooms and dare each other to take action. Like young people across time and religious boundaries, they are bored and looking for thrills.

“It’s more about hero worship than about religion,” Sageman said in a presentation of his research last week at the New America Foundation, a liberal think tank here. Many of this third wave don’t speak Arabic or read the Koran. Very few (13 percent of Sageman’s sample) have attended radical madrassas.

Condoleeza Rice, International Relations Theory and the Bush Administration

In class today, I tried to convince you that understanding IR from a theoretical perspective was not simply some abstract, pedantic pursuit, but that the theoretical lens through which we view international relations does have real-world implications, many of which are dramatic.

I noted the role of Condoleeza Rice as the chief National Security Advisor to President Bush during his first term and also noted that Rice has long held a realist view of international relations. As you must know by now (I think I’ve mentioned it about 503 times since the beginning of the semester), realists view the state as the only prominent actor in international affairs. This was Rice’s view upon assuming her new position and this was manifested in the security objectives of the incoming administration, which did not believe, initially, that a non-state actor like Al Qaeda was a grave threat to the security of the United States.

Here are excerpts from Rice’s article in Foreign Affairs magazine in the midst of the 2000 presidential election campaign:

Summary: With no Soviet threat, America has found it exceedingly difficult to define its “national interest.” Foreign policy in a Republican administration should refocus the country on key priorities: building a military ready to ensure American power, coping with rogue regimes, and managing Beijing and Moscow. Above all, the next president must be comfortable with America’s special role as the world’s leader…

Continue reading “Condoleeza Rice, International Relations Theory and the Bush Administration”

CNN’s Startling use of its “Arab Affairs Editor”

A couple of students in my PLSC250 class have posted a clip of part of CNN’s reaction to news of the death of Al Qaeda’s Number 3 in command. (I thought that I’d never see the day when there was a more dangerous gig than being Spinal Tap’s drummer, but being Al Qaeda’s number 3 must be it.)*

Anyway, the anchor relays the news to viewers and turns to get expert advice from CNN’s “Senior Arab Affairs Editor.” What!?! An Arab affairs editor to give us insight into the area of the Pakistani/Afghan border where there are large numbers of Pashtuns, Tajiks, and Hazara, but no Arabs?

Go and watch the clip for yourself.

*I never thought that I’d be able to fit Al Qaeda and Spinal Tap into the same post.

A bio of Spinal Tap’s first drummer:

pepys.jpgPepys, John “Stumpy” (1943-1969): David and Nigel met the tall, blond geek in 1964 while touring as members of the Johnny Goodshow Revue. At a Southampton pub then known as the Bucket (now the Bucket and Pail), the boys jammed with the bespectacled drummer, nicknamed “the peeper” and then a member of the Leslie Cheswick Soul Explosion (now Les and Mary Cheswick). The three men would go on to form the Thamesmen and later, with Ronnie Pudding and Denny Upham, Spinal Tap, which played its first gig in December 1966. Pepys would die in a bizarre gardening accident shortly after the release of the band’s third album, “Silent But Deadly.” (IST) Nigel: “It was really one of those things the authorities said, ‘Well, best leave it unsolved.’ “

US Intelligence Director Assesses Al Qaeda Threat

A new article in the New York Times analyzes Mike McConell’s Tuesday testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.  How successful has the war on terror been in destroying th threat capability of that terrorist network?  According to McConell’s testimony, not too successful, unfortunately:

Al Qaeda is gaining in strength from its refuge in Pakistan and is steadily improving its ability to recruit, train and position operatives capable of carrying out attacks inside the United States, the director of national intelligence told a Senate panel on Tuesday.

The director, Mike McConnell, told lawmakers that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, remained in control of the terrorist group and had promoted a new generation of lieutenants. He said Al Qaeda was also improving what he called “the last key aspect of its ability to attack the U.S.” — producing militants, including new Western recruits, capable of blending into American society and attacking domestic targets.

A senior intelligence official said Tuesday evening that the testimony was based in part on new evidence that Qaeda operatives in Pakistan were training Westerners, most likely including American citizens, to carry out attacks. The official said there was no indication as yet that Al Qaeda had succeeded in getting operatives into the United States.

One point merits comment: The ability of a non-territorially-based network to threaten powerful states like the US is severely diminished without protection from states, like Pakistan.  Why Pakistan is an ideal refuge for Al Qaeda is a complicated story, but it goes back to the initial founding of the state in the 1940s, and the fact that the Pakistani state has never truly controlled–ie., asserted the monopoly of political violence in the parts of Pakistan in which members of Al Qaeda are currently taking refuge.  A more forceful response from the Pakistani government could have truly powerful destabilizing effects on Pakistan, and on the region as a whole.

See this slide show at the following link, for a fascinating look at Peshawar, a Pakistani city right at the heart of the battle: