Gerrymandering Pennsylvania Part IV

Yesterday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court published the new congressional district map of Pennsylvania, the latest chapter in this tale. Republicans in the state legislature have already said they will take this to the federal courts, but they tried that just a few weeks ago and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

So the Washington Post put together a map showing precinct-level data aggregated to the new borders and the result is a far more competitive map. Despite there being more Democrats in Pennsylvania, overall the map still remains leaning towards Republican, but there are more light blue and red, again meaning competitive, districts to be fought over.

Well now we have some sensible lines…
Well now we have some sensible lines…

I did hear on the radio this morning, however, that one implication will be in the new Pennsylvania 4th, which is comprised mainly of the Philadelphia suburban county of Montgomery. Right now, that area is so gerrymandered that there is not a candidate right now living with the new borders.

Credit for the piece goes to the Washington Post Wonkblog.

The Memo

So last week the House of Representatives published a highly controversial memo by Representative Devin Nunes. Why controversial? Because it is apparently missing dozens of pages of additional facts, data, and context. But what the memo does contain are connections between people and things. And this Friday piece from the Washington Post does a good job of trying to explain those connections.

It's just missing a lot of other details…
It’s just missing a lot of other details…

Credit for the piece goes to Darla Cameron, Julie Vitkovskaya, Reuben Fischer-Baum, Ann Gerhart, and Kevin Uhrmacher.

Jones–Moore Election Results

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last week or so, I have alternately been on holiday or sick while spending other time on my annual Christmas card. This will also be the last post for 2017 as I am on holiday until the new year. But before I go, I want to take a look at the election night graphics for the Alabama US Senate special election yesterday.

I am going to start with the New York Times, which was where I went first last night after returning from work. What was really nice was there graphic on their homepage. It provided a snapshot fo the results before I even got to the results page.

The homepage of the New York Times last night
The homepage of the New York Times last night

The results page then had the standard map and table, but also this little dashboard element.

I'm spinning my wheels…
I’m spinning my wheels…

We all know how I feel about dashboard things. To put it tersely: not a fan. But what I did enjoy about the experience was its progression. The bars below filled in as the night progressed, and the range in the vote-ometers narrowed. But that same sort of design could be applied to other graphics representing the narrowing of likely outcomes.

The second site I visited was the Washington Post. Like the Times, their homepage also featured an interactive graphic, another choropleth map.

A different page, a different map
A different page, a different map

There are two key differences between the maps. The Times map uses four bins for each party whereas the Post simplifies the page to two: leading and won. The second difference is the placement of the map. The Post’s map is a cropping of a larger national map versus the Times that uses a sole map of the state.

For a small homepage graphic, bits of both work rather well. The Times cuts away the unnecessary map controls and neighbouring states. But the space is small and maybe not the best for an eight-binned choropleth. In the smaller space, the Post’s simplified leading/won tells the story more effectively. But on a larger space that is dedicated to the results/story, the more granular results are far more insightful.

On a quick side note, the Post’s page included some context in addition to the standard results graphics. This map of the Black Belt and how it correlates to regions of Democratic votes in 2016 provides an additional bit of background as to how the votes played out.

Note, the Black Belt was named for the black soil, not the slaves.
Note, the Black Belt was named for the black soil, not the slaves.

Credit for the piece goes to the design teams of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The Demilitarised Zone

Over the weekend, the American and North Korean leaders got into an argument with the North Korean leader calling President Trump old and the American leader calling Kim Jong Un short and fat. High class diplomacy.

So what holds the North Korean army, by numbers likely not quality one of the largest armed forces in the world, back from sweeping down the Korean coastlines and overrunning Seoul? Well, that would be the role of the Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ. And thankfully yesterday, whilst your humble author was out sick, the Washington Post published a piece looking at the DMZ.

The title of the piece
The title of the piece

The piece uses a giant, illustrated in the background to provide context to the words and imagery sitting in the foreground. (That is how I justified covering it in the blog: map.) Overall the experience was smooth and informative about the sheer amount of destructive power waiting just miles north of Seoul.

Credit for the piece goes to Armand Emamdjomeh, Laris Karklis, and Tim Meko.

Flaking Out of the Senate

This has been a busy week. I am working on a small piece on the Red Sox managers in the free agency period—I thought it would be ready yesterday, but not so much—but news continues to happen outside of the baseball world. Some of the biggest, at least in the US, would have to be the speech by Senator Flake of Arizona who announced he would not seek re-election in 2018.

So cue the politically-themed graphics. Today’s piece comes from the Washington Post. The graphic itself is not terribly complex as it is a scatter plot comparing the liberal/conservativeness of senators with how their respective state voted in 2016.

Scrolling through the piece changes the graphic
Scrolling through the piece changes the graphic

But what the piece does really well is weave a narrative through the chart. Scrolling down the page locks the graphic in place while the text changes to provide new context. And then different dots are highlighted or called out.

It proves that not all the best graphics need to be terribly complex.

Credit for the piece goes to Kevin Schaul and Kevin Uhrmacher.

Earthquake Early Warning

Last month, two massive earthquakes devastated Mexico. Now, if you were like me, you were captivated by the photos and videos of the quakes striking and tearing down buildings and infrastructure. But, think about it for a second, how did people know to take out their mobiles and record the tremors for posterity’s sake?

Well, the first thing you should know is that earthquakes consist of a number of different waves of energy. Some move quicker and are less damaging than the slower travelling ones. And it turns out that scientists have been able to use that speed differential to build early warning systems along and around fault lines.

The Washington Post did a really nice job of explaining how earthquake-prone California is developing just such a system to deal with its tremors. I won’t spoil all the details, you should go read the article if earthquakes are of any interest to you.

The Shake Alert system
The Shake Alert system

Credit for the piece goes to

(Lack of) Support for Cassidy-Graham Obamacare Repeal

A wee bit of housekeeping here at the top. Your author will be away for work and then enjoying a well-earned, but all-too-brief holiday over the next week.

At the end of the week, the Senate’s window to pass a budget reconciliation measure, i.e. what they need to do to repeal Obamacare with only 51 votes, will close for a year. As of my writing on Monday evening, Susan Collins has just become the third Republican no vote, effectively dooming the bill should it come to the floor for the vote.

But as the week progresses, I fully expect the bill’s authors to add some bells and whistles to try and sweeten the deal. But the problem has always been, the bells for the hardline conservatives push moderates away and the whistles for those same moderates drive away the same hardline conservatives. For the next year and a half or so, the best bet to pass a fix to healthcare is a bipartisan “repair Obamacare” instead of “repeal Obamacare”. Whether or not the Senate will have the stomach for such a compromise is yet to be seen.

In the meantime, this week we have a tracker from the Washington Post examining the latest positions of senators on the Cassidy-Graham bill.

It does a nice job of breaking up the Republican conference not just along the ideological spectrum, but also on the winners and losers spectrum. After all, the bill as written will transfer large sums of aid from states that accepted the expansion of Medicare to those states that rejected expansion.

Who's saying yes and who's saying no
Who’s saying yes and who’s saying no

Credit for the piece goes to Kim Soffen, Amber Phillips, and Kevin Schaul.

Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick is a contentious figure in American football because of the protests he started against the US national anthem. While other protesting players remain on teams and play, Kaepernick remains unsigned despite what some say is a talent above other players. And as the American football season just began, this article from the Washington Post caught my attention.

Some of the arguments I have seen for Kaepernick’s unsigned status allege he just is not very good. But is that so? What does the data show? Well thankfully the Post dived into that and is running what we can best call a Kaepernick tracker comparing him to qualified quarterbacks in the NFL.

Clearly better than a host of other quarterbacks
Clearly better than a host of other quarterbacks

It turns out, he is a middle-of-the-pack quarterback, demonstrably better than half-a-dozen and sitting solidly amongst an almost third-tier or cluster of players. The data clearly shows that poor performance is not the reason for remaining unsigned, otherwise he would have replaced any number of quarterbacks. True, it could come down to his dollar cost, but most likely his remaining unsigned, compared to almost a dozen players underperforming him, is related to his protests.

Now from the design standpoint, I also wanted to call attention to this article because of the way it handles definitions. The article uses the statistic adjusted net yards per attempt to assess performance. But what does that actually mean? Well, in the digital margins of the piece, the designers include an explanation of that statistic. I thought this was a really well-done part of the article, not interrupting the main narrative flow for a definition that a portion of the audience probably knows. But the more casual followers or people more interested in the political nature of the story would have no idea, and this does a great job of explaining it to us laymen.

What does it all mean?
What does it all mean?

Credit for the piece goes to Reuben Fischer-Baum, Neil Greenberg, and Mike Hume.

How Big Was Irma?

Like many Americans I followed the story of Hurricane Irma over the weekend. One of my favourite pieces of reporting was this article from the Washington Post. It did a really nice job of visually comparing Irma to some recent and more historic storms, such as 1992’s Hurricane Andrew.

It can be difficult to truly compare hurricanes, sometimes they are small and compact, other times more dispersed. Irma was just big with lots of potentially destructive power spread out across a wide area, almost the width of the Floridian peninsula. The article uses several graphics—I am also quite partial to the satellite image comparison so check out the article—but this one is perhaps my favourite.

A look at four big storms
A look at four big storms

It uses a colour palette that deepens in redness nearer the storm’s centre. This allows the user to compare the geographic area or footprint of the storms destructive winds.

I wonder, however, what would happen if the designers had superimposed each graphic atop the other. It might have allowed for an even better comparison of size instead of having to have the user mentally transpose each hurricane.

Still, a really nice graphic and visual article.

Credit for the piece goes to Bonnie Berkowitz, Laris Karklis, Reuben Fischer-Baum, and Chiqui Esteban.

Tampa Bay and Hurricanes Do Not Mix

About a year ago Pro Publica and the Texas Tribune published a piece that documented the calamity of a hurricane striking and flooding the city of Houston. It proved rather prescient a week or so ago.

So a little over a month ago the Washington Post published an article about the catastrophe that could await Tampa Bay if a major hurricane were to strike the area. I read it, enjoyed it, and found it informative, but opted not to share it with all of you.

Well now we have Hurricane Irma barrelling towards Florida after it struck the Leeward Islands this morning. So today felt like a decent day to share the story.

Not looking so great
Not looking so great

Credit for the piece goes to Darryl Fears, Zoeann Murphy, Kolin Pope, Denise Lu, and Danielle Rindler.