What makes a good data visualization?

A good data visualization is, in its essence, one that requires little or no explanation in order to understand.  I’ve made this Venn diagram as part of my (proposed) TED talk to help you understand.


(Fig. 1)

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if you are in any way associated with the TED scheduling department.


None so blind, and none so deaf

“Those who are trying to connect the murders of the officers with the thousands of articulate and peaceful protestors across America are being deliberately misleading in a cynical and selfish effort to turn public sentiment against the protestors. This is the same strategy used when trying to lump in the violence and looting with the legitimate protestors, who have disavowed that behavior. They hope to misdirect public attention and emotion in order to stop the protests and the progressive changes that have already resulted. Shaming and blaming is a lot easier than addressing legitimate claims.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, here

Shame on the people who are trying to equate “anti-police brutality” with “anti-police”, on EITHER side of the divide. If you do that, you are missing the point by a margin that can only be achieved by purposefully and willfully ignoring the issue.

An issue that, by the way, a lot of voices are currently, very patiently trying to explain to you, if you chose to listen.

I see way too many people on my social media walls who say things like “they don’t even know what they are protesting”, or “I don’t understand what the fuss is all about.”

If that is your current perspective, you need to be aware is that your confusion is entirely due to your own desire to be unmolested by those who rightfully complain about the privilege you have to NOT understand it. If you lived it every day, you wouldn’t be confused about what “the fuss” is about.

And if you just listen to those who live it every day, you won’t be confused either. They are talking, while you complain about being unable to hear.

If you are interested in learning, you could catch up very quickly just by reading everything Ta-Nehisi Coates has written on the matter, starting with “The Case for Reparations”

Anti-bullying time

If we can pass a law that helps to prevent bullying in schools in Minnesota, we can pass a law that helps prevent bullying on the sidewalks in front of women’s health clinics.

Because let me be very clear: bullying is EXACTLY what these people are doing. To call it “sidewalk counseling” as they scream at people, spew bile at the escorts and harass the clinic workers is a blatant example of bearing false witness: a hypocrisy their cherry-picked version of “religion” seems to have no problem with.

The relationship between people who oppose abortion in general and these bullies is the same as the relationship between a normal religious person and a member of the Westboro Baptist Church: the first can include many reasonable people with considered positions, the ability to disagree with others yet still remain civil, and a huge degree of empathy for suffering in others that can move many to action. The second are a fringe group of horrible hypocrites with gnarled, knotted remnants of souls and something black and petrified where their hearts used to be.

You discover something truly frightening and revelatory about what humans can become when you repeatedly witness the lightning-quick transition from a facade of caring piety, calling out “we’ll take care of your baby” from behind a tentatively-respected property line, into furiously spitting “YOU’LL ALL BURN IN HELL”, the minute the clinic doors close behind a patient. No one who truly cared about a child would leave him or her for a second with this kind of person, let alone a lifetime. And instead of requiring them to get the psychological help they desperately need, we have no option but to let them expose their twisted version of humanity to women and families seeking medical services.

It’s bullying, plain and simple. We can and have put legislation and programs in place to help reduce it in schools: we should be able to do the same for sidewalks. We can draw a line that protects freedom of speech and reduces this harassment, and for those who think this line is too hard to define or worry where to draw it, I’ll invite you to stand with the escorts for a few days: if you think the line is murky or hard to place or that it’s unclear where it should be drawn, I guarantee that you will quickly discover yourself understanding that there definitely is a line, and the person in front of you yelling hatred is definitely over it.

It’s time for anti-bullying legislation that protects the women and families entering these clinics.

Stop it, brain.

There are two things which my brain is thoroughly convinced I am good at, in spite of the fact that I suck at them both and have never successfully done either in my life:

Tap-dancing and juggling.

But I constantly, CONSTANTLY have dreams in which I demonstrate coolly casual, master-level expertise at both, and when I wake up I do so with the briefly-lived, sincere and complete belief that I am awesome at them. It lasts about 60 seconds.

To this day, I can juggle up to one ball without hurting myself, and tap one foot to a rhythm no more complex than a Britney Spears tune. That’s it. But try telling my brain that: it’s convinced that if I just tried them once more, the latent skills would all come flooding back to me and I would be AMAZING. Because I have all this dream experience, and that’s almost like practicing, right?

So I do. And I look like a dumbass once more.

Goddammit brain: I hate you so much.

And any time it doesn’t use lying to me about my juggling and tap-dancing skills, it spends dreaminding me how crappy and stressful high school was. THIRTY GODDAMM YEARS AGO.

If you feel you are in danger, then leave the danger zone.

If you see people walking into a store or a restaurant with openly-carried rifles and weapons, there is no way for you to ascertain what their intentions are. You can’t tell whether they are a “good person with a gun”, a “bad person with a gun”, or a “generally good person with a gun who could be triggered by some unknown level of confrontation into becoming a bad person with a gun” or anything in between.

The correct action to take is to remove yourself from the situation. Abandon your cart of purchases, don’t worry about paying for food; just get out. It is perfectly rational to feel unsafe, and it’s better to be out of the way in case their (unknown) intentions are not good ones. You should not feel obligated (legally OR morally) to stay and pay for your purchases if you feel your life is endangered. If you are in a restaurant and have already eaten your meal, you can call the restaurant after the fact, let them know why you left, and offer to pay for it over the phone. You may call the store and explain why you left your purchases in a cart in the middle of the aisle. You may also advise them whether you intend to return to the restaurant or store if you do not feel safe there.

It’s a risk with which companies that allow open-carry into their stores and restaurants will have to learn to deal.

Unless you can explain to me why I should always feel perfectly safe when random people carrying rifles walk into a Target store or a Mexican food restaurant or any other place where rifles are not part of the general commercial activities conducting within, then this seems to be a perfectly rational response. This isn’t even a gun-specific action: I would probably do the same thing if someone came into a Chipotle wielding a chainsaw.

Then again, “Stand Your Ground” laws in your state also allow you to take matters into your own hands if you are armed and feel threatened, and act preemptively. I can’t make any recommendation in that situation, but it seems to me that the law would be pretty clearly on your side in those cases.

Excerpt #9

“Have you met the Killersteins? Absolutely lovely couple, quite charming. You’d really like them. Unfortunate last name though!”

“Ha ha, yes. It does rather make them sound like murderers.”

“What? Oh yes, but they are: serial killers, both of them. Quite psychopathic. I meant it’s just so unfortunate to telegraph their intentions quite so blatantly. There’s just no subtlety: it completely *ruins* the surprise.”

– Excerpt from my upcoming book “Murderbia in Suburbia”, available in 2015 through every possible publishing company in the world simultaneously because it’s so awesome and they each felt unworthy to publish it by themselves.

Constitutional Rights for corporations, yes… and they can still be not equal to people.

Granting rights to corporations is what gives us freedom of the press and many of the positive rights enjoyed by unions and non-profit organizations that we support. I’m not saying I agree with the Court’s rulings in Citizens United and Hobby Lobby: I’m just saying that a blanket statement of “corporations don’t have rights like people have rights” and any movement to amend the Constitution to remove those rights has a very hard job ahead of itself to carve out the consequences we don’t like about granting rights to corporations (which are, at the end of the day, just groups of individuals) from the consequences we do like.

There’s a reason the right to peaceably assemble and petition the government and to free speech are in the same Amendment. The combination of those three is what gives us the ACLU, for example. Whenever you move to amend, don’t just think about what your proposed amendment will do to Hobby Lobby: think about what it will do to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, to the ACLU, to the AFL-CIO, to the press, and to for-profit companies that use their money for speech that you support, not just that which you oppose.

Let’s just say I’m not opposed to a “move to amend”, but when organizations that promote the amendment say things like “money is not speech!”, they aren’t clearly contemplating the consequences of that statement. Any movement that restricts a person’s OR GROUP OF PERSONS’ right to political speech and expression of political opinion will find it close to impossible to do without screwing up the very freedom to conduct robust, fiery and heated debate about the political climate which led to the creation of the United States in the first place. It took money to publish the Federalist Papers.

When a site like “Move to Amend” proposes an amendment that strips all Constitutional rights from any and all “artificial entities established by law”, I think of freedom of the press and shudder.

There’s probably a way to achieve these goals through an amendment process, but I have yet to see proposed a good way to do it that doesn’t undermine principles of expression, self-determination and self-government cherished by both the left and the right.

Open Carry MN

I’m launching a local chapter of Open Carry Minnesota: we’ll be openly brandishing IUDs and Plan B packages at the Hobby Lobby store that opens here in August.

Don’t worry, we’ll have the safety on. No chance of a contraceptive accidentally going off and providing choice to an employee against their (employer’s) will.

Teachable moments

The moment of the soccer 2014 World Cup that I wanted my son to watch the most was Brazil’s David Luiz consoling Colombia’s James Rodriguez after Colombia’s defeat. There is so much in that instant: sportsmanship, the ability as a male to express your emotions openly, respect, not gloating over the win but rather feeling empathy for the match losers, a heartfelt moment between two players who have both worked so hard and so long to be at the top of their game, the shared humanity of both players after 90 minutes of being on opposing sides, Luiz pointing to Rodriguez to the crowd so they would recognize him… even as they exchanged shirts, suddenly they appeared as two equal human beings, no longer differentiated and set apart by national colors.

It was a beautiful moment, and a very teachable one.

As a parent I want more moments like this. I want all moments like this.

I’m hoping my son will remember that moment, and not the time 24 hours later when his dad was screaming himself hoarse at the television for two hours.

Costa Rica moves ahead. Some not as fast as others.

I have several FB friends and acquaintances from Costa Rica who in the past few days have expressed dismay that the brand-new President of CR, Luis Guillermo Solís, raised the rainbow flag on the lawn of the Casa Presidencial in honor of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17.

To their credit, very few friends are expressing this dismay as clear homophobia, although some have (and are no longer my FB friends). But the other expressions, while more subtle, are still troubling.

The most common are variations on the theme expressed and forwarded in online articles that say “The Casa Presidencial should represent ALL Ticos, not just a few! Why don’t they raise the banner of the Dia del Agricultor (Farmer’s Day) or the Dia de la Familia (Family Day)? Why not the flag of the Roman Catholic Church?”

That sounds reasonable, right?

But I wonder if any of the people who express that point of view would be offended if there were a Farmer’s Day banner flying over the Casa Presidencial. How many of them would run to their FB wall to complain that we are not all farmers, and how dare the President single out just that one group? How many of them would criticize the new President for being so exclusionary, since most Ticos are in fact NOT farmers?

How many would stand up and protest for the rights of Ticos who don’t have a family, if the banner for Family Day were flying? Who among them would be writing letters to the Tico Times expressing concern that non-Catholics in the country were being oppressed and excluded by such blatant pandering?

How many would complain on the International Day Against Violence Towards Women, that the President is only recognizing 50% of Ticos because… they are actually Ticas?

None. You would most probably simply appreciate that many Ticos ARE farmers and ARE members of a family, and that recognizing them on their day is a nice tribute, even if you are a Tico who does not belong to their ranks.

But oh, the irony of complaining about the rainbow flag, on the very day of the year in which we should be thinking about how much violence and hatred and EXCLUSION is directed towards other human beings because of their sexual orientation and gender identification. Including in Costa Rica.

I would like to suggest that you consider that no one in Costa Rica is afraid of “coming out” as a farmer to their parents and friends and co-workers; that no one gets bullied and beaten up in their school because they are a Roman Catholic. That no one can get fired or thrown out of a bar because they are members of a family, and that farmers are not denied the right to marry the person they love, or adopt children or even have their partners farmers recognized as their own family members. NO Roman Catholic in Costa Rica has been denied visitation rights to their own family because of their religion.

And consider that perhaps the hatred and criticism towards Luis Guillermo Solís for making a the tiniest token of acceptance towards a group that has been historically sidelined, discriminated against and a target of violence and abuse ON THE VERY DAY the world is recognizing how big of a problem that is, is a sign for those of you who feel such vitriol to start thinking about why that abuse is such a huge problem. It’s because of that very mentality: cloaked in the “we are all Ticos!” excuse, it manages to generate outrage only when you are reminded that there are many Ticos who are different from you in ways you find uncomfortable.

That discomfort, that outrage, is exactly what the Día Internacional contra la Homofobia y la Transfobia is supposed to be fighting against. If you are feeling it, then perhaps you are missing the entire point of the day, the very point of raising the banner, and the pain and suffering your attitude is causing towards other people who are just as Ticos as you are.

And to my LGBTQ friends in Costa Rica, I offer the love and unconditional support you deserve, on this of all days; and the hope that some day the public statement that you, too are Ticos, causes as little controversy as it does today for the farmers, for the families, for the church members.