Kids Do the Darnedest Things: Shoot Other Kids

Last month, a 2-year old shot and killed his 4-year old sister whilst they sat in a car at a petrol station in Chester, Pennsylvania, a city just south of Philadelphia.

Not surprisingly some people began to look at the data around kid-involved shootings. One such person was Christopher Ingraham who explored the data and showed how shootings by children is up 50% since the pandemic. He used two graphics, one a bar chart and another a choropleth map.

The map shows where kid-involved shootings have occurred. Now what’s curious about this kind of a map is that the designer points out that toddler incidents are concentrated around the Southeast and Midwest. And that appears to be true, but some of the standouts like Ohio and Florida—not to mention Texas—are some of the most populated states in the country. More people would theoretically mean more deaths.

So if we go back to the original data and then grab a 2020 US Census estimate for the under-18 population of each state, I can run some back of the envelope maths and we can take a look at how many under-18 deaths there had been per 100,000 under-18 year-olds. And that map begins to look a little bit different.

If anything we see the pattern a bit more clearly. The problem persists in the Southeast, but it’s more concentrated in what I would call the Deep South. The problem states in the Midwest fade a bit to a lower rate. Some of the more obvious outliers here become Alaska and Maine.

As the original author points out, some of these numbers likely owe to lax gun regulation in terms of safe storage and trigger locks. I wonder if the numbers in Alaska and Maine could be due to the more rural nature of the states, but then we don’t see similar rates of kid deaths in places like Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

Credit for the original piece goes to Christopher Ingraham.

Political Hatch Jobs

Earlier this week I read an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the political prospects of some of the candidates for the open US Senate seat for Pennsylvania, for which I and many others will be voting come November. But before I get to vote on a candidate, members of the political parties first get to choose whom they want on the ballot. (In Pennsylvania, independent voters like myself are ineligible to vote in party primaries.)

This year the Republican Party has several candidates running and one of them you may have heard of: Dr. Oz. Yeah, the one from television. And while he is indeed the front runner, he is not in front by much as the article explains. Indeed, the race largely had been a two-person contest between Oz and David McCormick until recently when Kathy Barnette pulled just about even with the two.

In fact, according to a recent poll the three candidates are all statistically tied in that they all fall within the margin of error for victory. And that brings us to the graphic from the article.

It would be funny to see a candidate finish with negative vote share.

Conceptually this is a pretty simple bar chart with the bar representing the share of the support of those polled. But I wanted to point out how the designer chose to represent the margin of error via hatched shading to both sides of the ends of the red bar.

In some cases the hatch job does not work for me, particularly with those smaller candidates where the bar goes negative. I would have grave reservations about the vote should any candidate win a negative share of the vote. 0% perhaps, but negative? No. I also don’t think the grey hatching works as well over the grey bar in particular and to a lesser degree the red.

I have often thought that these sorts of charts should use some kind of box plot approach. So this morning I took the chart above and reworked it.

Now with box plots.

Overall, however, I really like this designer’s approach. We should not fear subtlety and nuance, and margins of error are just that. After all, we need not go back too far in time to remember a certain candidate who thought she had a presidential election locked up when really her opponent was within the margin of error.

Credit for the piece goes to John Duchneskie.

Russo-Ukrainian War Refugees: 12 April

Another week, more combat and refugees in Ukraine. I’m going to try and hold the war update until tomorrow pending some news that hasn’t been confirmed yet: the fall of Mariupol. Instead, we’re going to again look briefly at the refugee situation in Ukraine—technically outside. I haven’t seen a recent number on the internally displaced, though we have begun to see some people return to Ukraine especially in the north and around Kyiv. It’s unclear to me if the data includes those people returning.

Regardless, we are at over 4.6 million Ukrainians who have fled Ukraine.

Slowing down of late.

The question now is as Russia refocuses its effort now on the Donbas—though fierce fighting has been waged in the area for eight years now—will these numbers begin to see a notable change.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Russo-Ukrainian War Update: 6 April

It’s been a week since my last update and that’s in part because a lot has changed. When we last spoke, the Russians had announced they had successfully completed the first phase of the “special military operation”.

They didn’t.

Instead, Russian forces have completed a full-on retreat from northern Ukraine, sending troops and equipment back to Belarus and western Russia for refit, repair, and resupply. These are then likely to head south towards the Donbas and eastern Ukraine, the new focus of the war.

That area, in particular the south, has been Russia’s lone area of success in this war and it makes sense for Russia to reinforce its success and take the loss in the north where it was in fact losing. In fact, during the Russian retreat we saw continued, limited gains in the Donbas and the south. There, Russia appears desirous to envelop Ukrainian forces and cut them off from resupply, especially in the area of Kramatorsk.

For those that recall my coverage back in 2014, get ready to start hearing the same cities and towns mentioned all over again.

Generally good news for Ukraine in this

Russia wanted to capture Kyiv and cities in the north to topple the Ukrainian government. But militarily, offensive operations in the north prevented Ukraine from reinforcing their units in the south. Since 2014, Ukraine has been conducting the Joint Forces Operation (JFO) in the Donbas. These are the best-equipped and most-experienced Ukrainian troops int he war as they’ve been fighting the Russians and Russian-backed separatists for eight years. I suspect that Ukraine’s success thus far is in no small part due to the knowledge Ukraine has gained about how to fight Russian units and counter Russian tactics in this very theatre. In other words, Russia needed to prevent these forces from being resupplied. With Russia’s retreat, this is an option.

That isn’t to say Ukraine can send its whole army south, because I imagine some Russian troops will remain on the Russian side of the border north of Kyiv just in case a moment of opportunity arises.

So if Russia cannot stop Ukrainian reinforcements by pinning or fixing Ukrainian units to the north, Russia needs to cut off routes of resupply. Not surprisingly then, we’ve been seeing increased numbers of operations to take cities and towns that serve as vital rail and road hubs. And further away from the battlefield, Russian artillery and cruise missiles have been relentlessly striking similar towns in attempts to destroy transport infrastructure.

For now, it seems as if Russian forces continue to probe Ukrainian defences in an attempt to find a weak point in their lines that they can then exploit through an artillery barrage and likely an armour and mechanised infantry blitz. What works for Ukraine is that despite being surrounded on three sides, that makes it easier to shuffle units and supplies between forces facing the most pressure. Russia, on the other hand, has to move its reinforcements along the entire circumference of that bubble.

Ukraine obviously wants to retake all the territory lost to Russia thus far. In the southwest, we have seen some successful operations in repulsing the Russians around Mykolaiv and pushing Russian forces back to the outskirts of Kherson. Kherson and Nova Kakhovka control the only two southern bridges across the Dnieper. Russia needs to defend these in order to keep Ukraine from attacking its units in the south from the rear so to speak. Russian units are holding in the cities thus far despite enormous pressure.

Russia still controls the vital rail lines leading up from Crimea that allows them to keep Russian forces in that theatre resupplied. The lack of resupply was one of the issues in the north, but Russian infrastructure is better in the south and east and that could present an obstacle to Ukrainian counteroffensive operations.

Finally we have the city of Mariupol, which remains under siege. Russian units continue to make bloody but slow and steady progress into the city. What’s fascinating are reports of Ukrainian units being resupplied despite the siege. And that may explain Russian attacks on civilian convoys, because with no air, rail, or sea transport links into the city, the only way Ukraine must be able to resupply its units is under the guise of civilian lorries or cars. And if Ukrainians are using civilian vehicles to resupply their military forces, that could open civilian vehicles to being sometimes legitimate targets.

So long as Russia continues to control broad swathes of territory surrounding the city, I think it’s a matter of time until Mariupol falls. But the longer the city holds out, the fewer combat effective troops Russia will later have to reorganise for a push north into Zaporizhzhia oblast and the Donbas, which is ideal for Ukraine.

I don’t think I’m going to touch on the atrocities we’re seeing coming out of northern Ukraine in this post. But I will say that the visuals we’re seeing confirm some of the worst reports and rumours that had been circulating on the internets over the last few weeks.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Russo-Ukrainian War Refugees: 5 April

Just a quick update as I try to update my battle map. Today we’re taking another look at the refugee crisis Putin created in eastern and central Europe. Over four million Ukrainians have left Ukraine and millions more have been displaced internally within Ukraine.

Whilst we may hope they will eventually return home, the photos and videos we are seeing of Ukrainian areas that had been captured by Russian forces show that many Ukrainians no longer have homes or even villages to which they can return.

This problem will persist for years as Ukraine tries to rebuild. And that doesn’t include the fact that much of southern and parts of eastern Ukraine remain under Russian control. And some of those areas continue to see fierce fighting.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Russo-Ukrainian War Update: 29 March

I took a few days off from covering the war in Ukraine. Now it’s time to jump back in and catch up on things.

Putin and his generals have declared the first phase of his “special military operation” over and that it was a success. They claimed that their goal was never the capture of Kyiv or other major cities in the north and east. Rather, those were all feints or diversions to prevent Ukraine from reinforcing their units in the Donbas as Russia “liberates” those regions.

Of course, I believe very little of that. There is a value in “pinning” or “fixing” an enemy’s forces in place so they cannot reinforce them somewhere else. To an extent, Russian and Belarusian forces have been doing this in western Ukraine. There they remain just north of the border without having crossed it. This keeps Ukrainian forces in place to defend against a new axis of Russian invasion.

I would argue that if Putin really wanted to keep the Ukrainian units around Kyiv fixed in that area of operations, he could have done so with fewer units and with a different strategy that would have cost far fewer lives and far fewer military assets. And the same can be said for Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv.

Rather, we are seeing successful small-scale Ukrainian counterattacks across the country.

Some good news for Ukraine

You can see how around Kyiv, Ukrainian forces have retaken several suburbs, including Irpin, the focus of weeks of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers. Whilst Russian forces have been pushed back and Ukraine has liberated the city, Russia continues to heavily shell the area.

Another big change on this map from last week is the Russian advances especially south and east of Sumy. That city had been effectively isolated, but Russia has withdrawn some of its forces and looks to be sending them south of Kharkiv on the push towards and south from Izyum. Ukraine has been following the withdrawing troops and liberating towns and, crucially, reopening those supply lines into Sumy. Russian losses? They appear to be heavy. But, Russia is not abandoning the front entirely, instead they are fortifying their positions.

Another area of Ukrainian success is in the south. They’ve driven Russia from the outskirts of Mykolaiv back to near the city limits of Kherson. There’s been some evidence that Ukrainians are also pushing south from north of the city along the western bank of the Dnieper, though Kherson itself remains in Russian hands. Critically, Russia still holds the two bridges that cross the Dnieper south of Zaporizhzhia.

West of Kherson and south of Kharkiv, however, Russia has been having slow but costly successes. In Mariupol, Russia’s bloody siege continues with the town resembling 1990s Grozny more and more day by day. On the streets, Russian forces continue to take more of the city block by block in bloody, house-to-house combat. The question in Mariupol will be how many Russian forces remain intact, or combat effective, when—it no longer appears to be an if—the city falls to Russian forces? If Russia has sufficient numbers of combat effective troops to garrison the city and reinforce forces north of the city, Russia could push further into Donetsk oblast and try to take more of the Donbas. But if the losses are too heavy, Russia would be forced to only garrison the city.

Northeast of Mariupol, the Russians continue their pincer movement heading west from Luhansk towards Severodonetsk and other points. Meanwhile troops from the region of Kharkiv have been making painful progress, albeit progress, south. These are the units trying to take the city of Izyum. At the moment it appears there are perhaps three different sub-axes of advance, with Russia likely probing to find weaknesses in Ukraine’s defences in that area of operations.

And in the air, Russian artillery shells and multiple-launch rockets continue to rain down upon Russian cities. Yesterday, Russia sent a cruise missile into the state government building in Mykolaiv, killing at least 12 people. Russia uses long-range standoff weapons to hit targets in western Ukraine as well as in Kyiv.

Finally, to end on a positive note.

You may recall the story of “Russian warship, go fuck yourself”. 13 Ukrainian soldiers “died” defending Snake Island. Well, it turned out they surrendered after they ran out of ammunition and Russian forces took them to Crimea as prisoners of war. They were then exchanged for a similar number of Russian prisoners of war. And yesterday one of those Snake Island defenders was given a medal for the defence of the island.

Russo-Ukrainian War Refugees

This data took far longer to clean up than it should have. And for that reason I’m going to have to keep the text here relatively short.

We still see tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Putin’s war in Ukraine. Although, we are down from the peaks early on in this war. In total, nearly four million have fled their homes for safety abroad. This does not include those people internally displaced. I’ve seen estimates that including those people, the number may be closer to ten million.

Keep in mind that Ukraine’s pre-war population was about 44 million. In other words, almost 1 in 10 people have left the country and 1 in 4 have fled their home for somewhere else. Given that most men are prohibited from fleeing the country, we also know that half of all Ukrainian children have fled their homes.

At least it’s trending down?

Credit for the piece is mine.

Russo-Ukrainian War Update: 23 March

Just when I thought I wasn’t going to post an update, we get some news out of Kyiv itself. The municipal government allowed journalists to see an unclassified map of the battlefield as they understand it. It highlighted those areas where Ukrainians have recaptured areas captured by the Russians in the first four weeks.

A lot has been said about encircling Russian troops northwest of Kyiv and the local government doesn’t come close to making that claim. But, they do state that Ukrainian forces have repulsed Russian advances north of the city of Nizhyn. For several days that city has been surrounded, but it appears those forces have managed a breakout and pushed the Russians back several miles.

Good news out of Ukraine

Credit for the piece is mine.

Russo-Ukrainian War: 22 March Update

I’m still trying to post these updates in the morning about what happened yesterday, even though we’re well into the afternoon in Ukraine. The situation on the ground, at least in terms of territorial change, remains largely static. I mentioned yesterday how Ukraine recaptured the town of Makariv. Yesterday, Ukrainian forces made a broader push in that area and there are reports that Ukraine has cut off Russia’s lead formations in Irpin, Bucha, and Hostomel from their resupply lines further north.

Keep an eye on that blue west of Kyiv.

I haven’t made any change to the map other than showing some additional blue arrows, because I haven’t seen any confirmation of that claim. But if true, it would be a big deal. I’ve been highlighting Russian attempts to envelop Ukrainian forces in the Donbas—a plan on which incredibly slow but steady progress is being made—and how that could very well lead to the annihilation of those forces. But if the report is correct, that could well mean the Russian lead forces could be annihilated.

We’re also seeing reports that Russia is taking more seriously denying Ukrainian units access to resupply. They destroyed a rail hub on the line from Dnipro to the Donbas and another linking Kharkiv to Sloviansk, a Ukrainian-held city in the Donas. The former in particular could disrupt shipments of NATO supplies arriving via western Ukraine.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Russo-Ukrainian War Update

Yesterday we looked at no-fly zones. Today I want to take a brief moment to look at the status of the war on the ground. I’ve been doing this later in the evening on my social media because of the time zone difference, but I want to see if it works holding off the posting until the morning.

The status for 21 March is largely unchanged.

There’s been little change the last week and a half or so.

The biggest news is that Ukrainians seem to have counterattacked west of Kyiv and retaken the town of Makariv. It sits at a small river crossing and controls one intersection linking a north-south route to a route west. Additionally, a major highway runs east-west just south of the town.

As I’ve mentioned in my social media posts, it’s hard to see the situation improving for the Russians barring an influx of troops or a significant change in battlefield tactics or their broader strategy. The Ukrainians, however, can launch small counterattacks and slowly push back on Russian advances.

Then the question becomes, what sort of casualties are we talking about for Ukraine? Open source reporting gives us a decent idea of Russian ground losses. But those sources have a bias towards Ukraine and we often don’t get as good visibility into Ukrainian losses.

That bias presents itself in other ways, the second big thing I wanted to discuss. There was significant talk about how Russia used a cruise missile to destroy a Ukrainian shopping mall in Kyiv. I read and heard the term “war crime” to describe the attack. But just because something is horrific does not necessarily make it a war crime.

I am no lawyer, just an armchair general. But as I understand it, civilian infrastructure is protected from the type of attacks Russia has broadly been conducting. However, should the defenders (Ukraine) begin using civilian infrastructure as part of their military operation, it makes that infrastructure a legitimate target, though there are still provisions for appropriate and reasoned scale of force to limit civilian casualties.

Bringing us back to Kyiv, we often hear Russia say the evil Nazi Ukrainians used a maternity hospital as a barracks in Mariupol, therefore the horrific bombing we saw was legitimate. I rarely see instances where Russia claims are verified by visual evidence. (Evidence that is increasingly easy to fake. Just ask a designer about what we can do with Photoshop.)

The bombing of a mall is terrible and the last I read, eight people died. But, we are seeing photos and videos of Ukrainian artillery forces using the mall as a shelter for their multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) operating in the area. If this is true, and again, take Russian claims with a large grain of salt, that does not necessarily make this a war crime. The Ukrainian forces put the people in the area in jeopardy by using a civilian building as a military facility.

Do I blame the Ukrainians? Not at all. They are, after all, fighting off an invasion of their country. In their situation I would probably be doing anything I could to win, but that doesn’t mean those actions lack costs.

To reiterate, if true, this is different than the bombing of the hospitals and schools that we’ve seen. The Ukrainians may have used a civilian target as a makeshift base of operations.

I’ve also seen unconfirmed reports that journalists were not permitted near the actual impact site, though they were allowed to walk about and take photographs further away. I’ve seen a sensational claim that a local Ukrainian resident who posted a photo of MLRS systems in the building on social media was arrested for treason. (As I understand it, it’s presently a crime in Ukraine to report Ukrainian military positions.)

Those are all unconfirmed reports, but I report them only because it goes to the idea of we may not be getting the full scale and scope of the war because a lot of the sources upon which we are all relying have a definite and clear (and understandable) pro-Ukraine bias. It just means that we have to sometimes pay more attention about what’s going on with Russian forces because not everything is evil and bad and wrong. (Though a number of things clearly are.)

Credit for the piece is mine.