Sports and Games

Well that was a week. Let’s try to stay on the lighter side this Friday. Several weeks ago I was debating with several people about the difference between a game and a sport. I decided that the best way to try and capture our conversation was with a Venn diagram.

So in the interest of furthering that conversation, I’ve digitised that sketch and am presenting it here for everyone else to see and, if they want, comment upon.

No war games here.

Hopefully this weekend and next week are a bit calmer.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Some Possible Shapes a Russian Invasion of Ukraine Could Take

I’ve been trying to figure out how to start several days’ worth of coverage about Ukraine and Russia’s “further invasion”. For those that haven’t followed me here at Coffeespoons for very long, eight long years ago, in addition to covering other media outlets’ work, I did quite a lot of research, designed several pieces trying to explain the last Russian invasion of Ukraine: when Putin seized Crimea (ultimately annexing it) and then supported separatists in the oblasts (provinces/states) of Donetsk and Luhansk. You can see that work on this tag for Ukraine.

Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that in the last several weeks my old Ukraine content about Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the Donbas has suddenly become my most popular content. By far. I figure as the first of likely a number of posts on a new invasion, I would outline some options that seem plausible to me, an armchair general.

At this point, it is now clear that Russia has begun to invade Ukraine once again—although the Russians never left at 2014. In Crimea, Russia exercises de facto jurisdiction having annexed the territory and incorporated it into the Russian Federation. The Donbas, on the other hand, remains under the de facto control of the separatists whilst remaining an integral part of Ukraine.

The Donbas consists of the aforementioned oblasts, Donetsk and Luhansk. Importantly, the separatists only exercise authority over approximately 1/3 of the territory with the Ukrainian government in control of the remainder. The separatists’ area of control, however, does include the region’s two largest cities, the eponymous capitals of the two oblasts. Yesterday, however, President Putin announced he supported the “sovereign” borders of the separatists, which claim the entirety of their oblasts.

You don’t need to stretch to see the impact of that statement. Russian troops will “maintain the peace”, or “piece keep”, as they help the separatists forcibly remove Ukrainian authorities from the remainder of the Donbas. The first question is will Putin go that far? Or could Western sanctions stop Putin from advancing beyond the current Line of Contact that divides the separatists from the Ukrainian government?

I wish. I really wish this is all that happens. Maybe we get lucky and the West’s sanctions keep it here, but I doubt it.

Of course Russia made a number of demands upon Ukraine: Recognise Russian annexation of Crimea, cede control of the Donbas to the separatists, withdraw plans to join NATO, declare neutrality, and demilitarise. Of course the Ukrainians could never accept any of those. So will Putin use a refusal to send the Russian army in to push back the Ukrainians to the borders of Donetsk and Luhansk? Personally, barring some significant ramping up of sanctions when the first T-80 tanks cross the border, I don’t see these as likely. You just don’t need to assemble 190,000 troops and your elite armour and mechanised infantry units to do this.

I wish this were the most likely outcome, but I just don’t see the need for so many troops surrounding Ukraine if this is the ultimate objective.

That leaves of us with the sadly more likely, but worse to worst case scenarios. To the south, along the shores of the Sea of Azov, would Putin seek to create a land bridge to Crimea? In 2014, the separatists advanced as far as Mariupol before being repulsed by Ukrainian government forces. After Crimea’s annexation, Russia built the Crimea Bridge, linking the Crimean city of Kerch to the Russian mainland via a road-rail bridge that crosses the Strait of Kerch. But in a hot war with Ukraine, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see those bridges as targets of Ukrainian forces. Ukraine’s goal would be to significantly restrict Crimea’s access to reinforcements and resupply. Having an overland route would make it easier for the Russians to keep Crimea and Sevastopol. For the Ukrainians, that would mean the loss of several economically important (and large) Ukrainian cities, notably Mariupol.

This is bad, but in my estimation the least bad of the likely bad options before Putin. It would be messy and costly to occupy several cities of 100k+ people that hate you.

Would Putin move on Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkov? Its population is roughly the same size as that of Philadelphia with 1.5 million people, largely Russian-speaking and split between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. The city is located only 20 miles from the Russian border and during the 2014 rebellion, separatists raided and ransacked government offices there, though Ukrainian forces ultimately reasserted control. Holding this oblast or a portion of it would create a new conflict zone, much like the Donbas has been for the last eight years. Those eight years with the world focused on the Donbas allowed Putin to consolidate his hold over Crimea. Could a frozen conflict in the Kharkov region take the world’s eyes off the Donbas and allow Russia to integrate Donetsk and Luhansk into western Russia?

Russia would be forced to try to take and hold a city of 1.5 million people, many of whom would be partisans against it. This is where it starts to get really ugly.

To the north is the more remote possibility of a lightning strike—perhaps in concert with one of the above options—to besiege or even attempt to take the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Could a siege resemble the utter destruction of Grozny back in 1999 when Putin “handled” the Chechen rebels? One certainly hopes not. But it’s not out of the realm of likelihood. One hopes that Putin is keeping so many troops in Belarus to force the Ukrainians to hold back their best troops from engaging in eastern Ukraine.

This is where the really bad gets downright atrocious in the truest sense of the word.

Finally there is the least likely, a full-out invasion of Ukraine west of the Dnieper River, which bisects the country from north to south similar to the Mississippi in the United States. This type of invasion would likely take many months and occur over multiple phases. And too many variables make it difficult to simply illustrate the geography. But it likely would involve almost all of the above to some degree or another. One could see this being the ultimate goal: utterly crippling if not destroying the Ukrainian state, showing the rest of Russia’s neighbours what happens to states that seek to align with the West and follow the path of liberal democracy. Subjugating Ukraine like it’s (peacefully) doing to Belarus.

Russia has already moved a significant portion of its heavy armour and lead units to the border, away from their forward bases. This means that Russia likely needs to commence operations in the next few days or then rotate them back for rest and resupply. This week is likely critical to Russia’s plans.

And as some housekeeping you may note that I’ve temporarily disabled commenting on new posts. Eight years ago as I started posting about these Ukraine articles, my site was hit by spam comments originating from Russia and Ukraine, unfortunately in sufficient numbers to bring down my site for a number of weeks. I will probably leave commenting disabled for the foreseeable future.

Credit for these pieces is mine.

America’s Crime Problem

During the pandemic, media reports of the rise of crime have inundated American households. Violent crimes, we are told, are at record highs. One wonders if society is on the verge of collapse.

But last night a few friends asked me to take a look at the data during the pandemic (2020–2021) and see what is actually going on out on the streets in a few big cities. Naturally I agreed and that’s why we have this post today. The first thing to understand, however, is that we do not have a federal-level database where we can cross compare crimes in cities using standardised definitions. The FBI used to produce such a thing, but in 2020 retired it in favour of a new system that, for reasons, local and state agencies have yet to fully embrace. Consequently, just when we need some real data, we have a notable lack of it.

At the very least we have national-level reporting on violent crimes and homicides, the latter of which is a subset of violent crimes. Though these reports are also dependent on local and state agencies self-reporting to the FBI. I also wanted to look at not just whether crime is up of late, but is crime up over the last several years. I chose to go back 30 years, or a generation.

We can see one important trend here, that at a national level violent crimes are largely stable at rate of 400 per 100,000 people. Homicides, however, have climbed by nearly a third. Violent crimes are not rising, but murders are.

My initial charge was to look at cities and violent crime. However, knowing that nationally violent crimes are largely stable, the issue of concern would be how the rise in murders is playing out on American city streets. With the caveat that we do not have a single database to review, I pulled data directly from the five cities of interest: Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Washington, and Detroit.

I also considered that large cities will have more murders simply by dint of their larger populations. And so when I collected the data, I also tried to find the Census Bureau’s population estimates of the cities during the same time frame. Unfortunately the 2021 estimates are not yet available so I had to use the 2020 population estimates for my 2021 calculations.

First we can see that not all cities report data for the same time period. And for Detroit in particular that makes comparisons tricky. In fact only New York had data back to the beginning of the century. Regardless of the data set’s less than full robustness we can see that in all five cities homicides rose in 2020 and 2021.

Second, however, if squint through that lack of full data, we see a trend at the city level that aligns with the national level. Homicides, tragically, are indeed up. However, in New York and Washington homicides are still below the data from near 2000 and at that time homicides already appear on a downward trajectory. I would bet that homicides were even higher during the 1990s and that the 2000s represented a long-run decline. In other words, whilst homicides are up, they are still below their peaks. A worrying trend, but far from the sky is falling.

That cannot quite be said for other cities. Let’s start with Detroit. Sadly we have too few years of data to draw any conclusion other than that homicides rose compared to the years preceding the pandemic.

That leaves us with Philadelphia and Chicago. Philadelphia has less data available and it’s harder to make a determination of what is happening. But we can say that since 2007, homicides have not been higher. If you look closely though, you can see how there does appear to be a downward trend at the beginning of the line. We do not have enough data like we do with New York and Washington, but I would bet homicides are up in Philadelphia, but still far short of what they were in the 1990s.

Chicago is the oddball. Yes, it saw a peak in homicides during the pandemic. But in 2016 the city didn’t miss the pandemic peak by much. In other words, homicides were staggeringly high in Chicago before the pandemic. If anything, we see a failure to combat high crime rates. But even before that spike in 2016, we see more of a valley floor in homicides. True, at the beginning of the century homicides appear to have trended down. But unlike the other cities here, homicides bottomed out at around 450 per 100,000 people. I’m not so certain we had a persistent, long-run decline in Chicago with which to start.

And like I said above, larger populations we would expect to have more murders because more potential criminals and victims. When we equalise for population we see the same trends as we expect—the city populations have been relatively stable over the last 20 years. Instead what we see is that relative to each other murders are more common in some cities and less so in others.

New York is a great example with nearly 500 murders last year, a number on par with Philadelphia. But New York has over 8 million inhabitants. Philadelphia has just 1.6. Consequently New York’s homicide rate is a surprisingly low 5.9 per 100,000 people. Philadelphia’s on the other hand? 35.6.

Philadelphia is near the top of that list, with Washington and Chicago having similar, albeit lower, rates at 31.7 and 30.1, respectively. But sadly Detroit surpasses them all and is in league of its own: 47.5 in 2021.

Credit for the pieces is mine.

Low Expectations

Today the 2021 Major League Baseball season begins its playoffs. Tomorrow we get the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals. Why the Dodgers, the team with the second-best record in all of baseball, need to play a one-game play-in is dumb, but a subject for perhaps another post. Tonight, however, is the American League (AL) Wildcard game and it features one of the best rivalries in baseball if not American sports: the Boston Red Sox vs. the New York Yankees.

Full disclosure, as many of you know, I’m a Sox fan and consider the Yankees the Evil Empire. But at the beginning of the year, the consensus around the sport was that the Yankees would win first place in their division and be followed by the Tampa Bay Rays or the Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox would place fourth and the lowly Baltimore Orioles fifth. The Red Sox, as the consensus went, were, after gutting their team of top-flight talent and a no-good, rotten, despicable 2020 showing, nowhere near ready to reach the playoffs. The Yankees were an unstoppable offensive juggernaut.

When the 2021 season ended Sunday night, as the dust around home plate settled, the Rays dominated the AL East to take first. But it was the Red Sox that finished second and the Yankees who took third. Whilst the two teams had the same record, in head-t0-head match-ups the Red Sox won more games than the Yankees, 10–9. Not bad for a team that everyone thought couldn’t make the playoffs and would be in fourth place.

That got me thinking though, how wrong were our expectations? After doing some Googling to find individual reports and finding a Red Sox twitter account (@RedSoxStats) that captured as many preseason forecasts as he could, I was ready to make a chart. The caveat here is that we don’t have data for all beat writers, who cover the Red Sox exclusively or almost exclusively on a daily basis, or even national media writers, who cover the Red Sox along with the rest of the sport and its teams. For example, ESPN polled 37 of its writers, but all we know is that 0 of 37 expected the Red Sox to make the playoffs. I don’t have a single estimate for the number of wins, which obviously determines who gets into said playoffs, for those 37 forecasts. Others, like CBS Sports, broke down each of their five writers’ rankings for the division and all five had the Red Sox finishing fourth. But again, we don’t have numbers of wins. So in a sense, if we could get numbers from back in the winter and early spring, this chart would look even crazier with the Red Sox being even more outperform-ier than they do here.

Dirty water

We should also remember that during September, in the lead-up to the playoffs, the Red Sox were struggling with a Covid-19 outbreak that put nearly half their starting roster on the Injured List (IL). The Sox had the backups to the backups starting alongside the backups, some of whom then also went on the IL with Covid-19 leading to signings of players who, despite being integral to the September success, are not eligible to play in the playoffs due to when they signed. José Iglesias brought some 2013 magic to be sure. Earlier in the year, MLB would postpone games when significant numbers of players were unavailable, but the Red Sox, for whatever reason, had to play every game. And there were instances where players started the game, but in the middle of the game their tests came back positive and they had to be removed from the field in the middle of the game.

I’m not certain where I stand on how much managers influence the win-loss record in baseball. But if the Sox manager, Alex Cora, doesn’t at least get some nods for being manager of the year, I’ll be truly shocked.

The Red Sox are not a great team. This is not the 2018 behemoth, but rather an early rebuild for a hopefully competitive team in 2023. Their defence is not great. They lack depth in the rotation and the bullpen. I, for one, never doubted their offence—2020 surely had to have been a pandemic fluke. But I had serious questions about their starting rotation. Ultimately the rotation proved itself to be…adequate. And while they played through Covid-19 and kept their heads above water in September, the last few weeks were, at times, hard to watch. The Yankees swept them at Fenway, site of tonight’s game, just last weekend. Of late, the Yankees have been the better team. And all year long, the Red Sox played less competitively than I’d like against the other teams that made the playoffs.

I don’t expect them to win let alone make the World Series, but nobody expected them to be here anyway. Maybe they still have a few more surprises in them. After all, anything can happen in October baseball.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Covid Update: 29 September

Last week when I wrote my update on Covid-19, we had seen a few signs for optimism, but in other states the news was hard to interpret or, in the case of Pennsylvania, not going the right way at all. So where are we this week? In some ways, not a lot has changed over the last seven days.

New case curves for PA, NJ, DE, VA, & IL.

Last week, we had positive developments in both New Jersey and Illinois. There cases had begun to noticeably and consistently fall with clear peaks in this fourth wave of infections. Their seven-day averages were decidedly below their recent peaks. That trend continued last week. In fact, in Illinois the seven-day average is now also below the peak from not just this fourth wave, but also the third wave. That’s good.

New Jersey’s fourth wave was nowhere near as impactful as its first three. It helps to have one of the highest vaccination rates in the United States. But the Garden State’s seven-day average is also falling, though not as quickly as in Illinois. You could even make the argument that over the last week cases have really remained flat, though the last few days I would contend are evidence of a slow slowdown.

Delaware had been a tricky state to judge given some recent volatility in its average. But as we can see over the last week the new case curve clearly has flattened. The flat line, however, remains just that, a flat line. This is more of a plateau shape than a descending hill shape. That means that cases are continuing to spread, but at a steady rate of about 450 new cases per day. This isn’t uncommon, but hopefully it precedes a fall in new cases rather than serving as a respite on an ever upward climb.

In Virginia I had mentioned some early indications of a potential flattening, the first step towards a decline in the average. That flattening appears to be taking hold. In the chart above you can clearly see a sharp decline beginning to take root in Old Dominion. The curve here most closely resembles Illinois in what, at least for now, is a fairly symmetrical increase and decrease.

Finally we have Pennsylvania. I was pretty short in my analysis last week, the state was headed in the wrong direction. The latest data shows that the Commonwealth may just be beginning to turn the corner and flatten the curve. However, after the pre-Labour Day slowdown that then erupted into a full-blown outbreak, I’m wary of saying anything definitive about Pennsylvania. All we can do is hope that these early trends hold true.

So what about deaths? Are we seeing any progress on that front? Last week I noted that it was almost all bad news. In all but Illinois we had death rates continuing to climb.

Death curves for PA, NJ, DE, VA, & IL.

That story, sadly, remains largely the same. Illinois, unfortunately has actually seen its seven-day average resume ticking upwards, although not by a significant degree. It’s enough that I think it fair to say deaths have largely plateaued and not necessarily begun to climb. And as I keep saying, that would track for a state where we have seen new cases falling for the last few weeks now.

Unfortunately, that’s about it. Deaths in New Jersey have remained fairly stable, though the average has moved from 19.3 to 17.4 as of yesterday. Perhaps that could be an indication of a falling death rate. But just a few days ago it was still nearer 19 than 18. I would want to see more data showing a consistent and persistent decline before saying New Jersey is headed the right way.

And in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia, deaths are headed the wrong way, plain and simple. At the beginning of the sample set, Delaware reported 14 deaths in one day, the most in a month. Consequently the average has jumped from 2.6 last week to 3.4 today. In Virginia we had seen deaths jump from 20 to 34. Well this week they jumped again, though by half the amount, to 41 deaths per day. Pennsylvania performed the worst, however. Deaths here climbed from 43 to 57 per day.

While we have seen new cases plateau in Delaware and begin to fall in Virginia, which should mean declining death rates in a few weeks, in Pennsylvania the numbers of new cases may only be beginning to flatten. Consequently, unless we begin to see a sharp decline in new cases, we will likely continue to see rising deaths in the Commonwealth. At least for a little while longer.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Covid Update: 22 September

It’s been a little over a week now since my last update on Covid-19 in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois. So where do we stand now, especially since last week we had seen a split with some good news and some not so good news?

Well let’s start with where we had good news last week: Illinois and New Jersey. In those two states we had the clearest evidence of the fourth wave peaking and beginning a slow descent.

New case curves for PA, NJ, DE, VA, & IL.

This week we can see that in Illinois the peak really does appear to have been reached as the seven-day average for new cases has been heading down slowly over the last week or so. In New Jersey we saw a sort of false peak, because new cases began to rise again not long after I posted. And with it the seven-day average did as well. However, in the last few days, the seven-day average has flattened ever so slightly, though it is still increasing.

Delaware is a bit harder to judge. When I last posted the seven-day average sat at 457 new cases per day. Yesterday? 454 new cases per day. If you look at the chart, you can see there was a brief spike that I had noted as a potential indicator of a peak for Delaware. After that brief decline however, you can see how the curve shot back up again, exceeding the earlier peak with an average of 470 new cases per day before cooling off slightly. New cases have been increasing for the last four days, but they are still below that 470 new cases number.

Virginia’s fourth wave long looked the worst. You can see some aberrant declines and spikes due to the extra day holiday in reporting—recall Virginia does not publish its weekend data. Since then however, there are some initial indications that Old Dominion may have peaked. Consider that when I last posted, the seven-day average sat at 4700 new cases per day. But over the last nine days, the average dropped to the 3600s for six days, then the 3500s for two days, and yesterday the average fell into the 3400s. That is the kind of flattening we want to see if there is a real peak.

Finally we have Pennsylvania. Right before Labour Day we had evidence of a slowing outbreak. But then after the holiday, new cases began to climb sharply. There was then a quick slowdown, but ever since we’ve continued to see rising numbers of new cases in the Commonwealth. At the time of my last post we had an average of 4100 new cases per day. Yesterday that was at 4700.

Pennsylvania looks like the only state we cover here that is clearly moving in the wrong direction.

But what about deaths?

Death curves for PA, NJ, DE, VA, & IL.

Well, here it’s almost all bad news. Before we can reasonably expect deaths to begin to slowdown, we need to see the spread of new cases slowdown. Remember that deaths are a lagging indicator as it can take weeks from infection to hospitalisation to death. And if most of our states have not yet clearly peaked, we shouldn’t really expect deaths to have peaked yet.

Here the only good news is Illinois where deaths peaked at 41 per day, but have since fallen to 31. Compare that to the shape of the curve in the new cases chart. We can clearly see the peak in new cases being followed by sometime by the peak in deaths.

In all the other states, however, we continue to see climbing numbers of deaths. In Pennsylvania over the last nine days we’ve seen the average climb from 24 deaths per day to 43. New Jersey increased a bit more slowly, from 13 to 19. And Delaware, again due to its small size, climbed, but only from 1.1 to 2.6. And in Virginia, we’ve seen the average number of deaths climb from 20 to 34.

If we are nearing peaks in New Jersey and Virginia, we should begin to see deaths cool down in the near future. The same holds true for Delaware, but there we have less evidence of a peaking outbreak.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Updated DNA Ethnicity Estimates

Earlier this year I posted a short piece that compared my DNA ethnicity estimates provided by a few different companies to each other. Ethnicity estimates are great cocktail party conversations, but not terribly useful to people doing serious genealogy research. They are highly dependent upon the available data from reference populations.

To put it another way, if nobody in a certain ethnic group has tested with a company, there’s no real way for that company to place your results within that group. In the United States, Native Americans are known for their reluctance to participate and, last I heard, they are under-represented in ethnicity estimates. Fortunately for me, Western European population groups are fairly well tested.

But these reference populations are constantly being updated and new analysis being performed to try and sort people into ever more distinct genetic communities. (Although generally speaking the utility of these tests only goes back a handful of generations.)

Last night, when working on a different post, I received an email saying had updated their analysis of my DNA. So naturally I wanted to compare this most recent update to last September’s.

Still mostly Irish

Sometimes when you look at data and create data visualisation pieces, the story is that there is very little change. And that’s my story. The actual number for my Irish estimate remained the same: 63%. I saw a slight change to my Scottish and Slavic numbers, but nothing drastic. My trace results changed, switching from 2% from the Balkans to 2% from Sweden and Denmark. But you need to take trace results with a pretty big grain of salt, unless they are of a different continent. Broadly speaking, we can be fairly certain about results at a continental level, but differences between, say, French and Germans are much harder to distinguish.

The Scottish part still fascinates me, because as far back as I’ve gone, I have not found an identifiable Scottish ancestor. A great-great-grandfather lived for several years in Edinburgh, but he was the son of two Ireland-born Irish parents. I also know that this Scottish part of me must come from my paternal lines as my mother has almost no Scottish DNA and she would need to have some if I were to have had inherited it from her.

Now for about half of my paternal Irish ancestors, I know at least the counties from which they came. My initial thought, and still best guess, is that the Scottish is actually Scotch–Irish from what is today Northern Ireland. But I am unaware of any ancestor, except perhaps one, who came from or has origins in Northern Ireland.

The other thing that fascinated me is that despite the additional data and analysis the ranges, or degree of uncertainty in another way of looking at it, increased in most of the ethnicities. You can see the light purple rectangles are actually almost all larger this year compared to last. I can only wonder if this time next year I’ll see any narrowing of those ranges.

Credit for the piece is mine.

Misleading Graphics Aren’t Limited to US Elections

Last week I wrote about how CBS News’ coverage of the California recall election featured a misleading graphic. In particular, the graphic created the appearance that the results were closer than they really were.

This week we had another election and, sadly, I find that I have to write the same sort of piece again. Except this time we are headed north of the border to Canada.

I was watching CBC coverage last night and I noticed early on that the vote share bar chart looked off given the data points. Next time it popped up I took a screenshot.

Look at the bars

First we need to note these are three-dimensional and the camera angle kept swinging around—not ideal for a fair comparison. This was the most straight-on angle I captured.

Second, at first glance, we have the Conservative share at a little more than 3/4 the Liberal vote share. That looks to be about right. Then you have the New Democratic Party (NDP) at roughly half the vote of the Conservatives. And the bar looks about half the height of the blue Conservative bar. Checks out. Then you have the People’s Party of Canada at roughly 1/4 the amount of NDP votes. But now look at the bar’s height. The purple bar is nearly the same height as the orange bar.

Clearly that is wrong and misleading.

The problem, I think, is that the designers artificially inflated the height of the bars to include the labels and data points for the bars. The designers should have dropped the labelling below the bars and let the bars only represent the data.

I created the following graphic to show how the chart should have looked.

And my take…

Here you can more clearly see how much greater the NDP victory was over the People’s Party. The labelling falls below the charts and doesn’t distort the height comparison between the bars. In some respects, it wasn’t even close. But the original graphic made it look else wise.

I just wish I knew what the designers were thinking. Why did they inflate the bars? Like with the CBS News graphic, I hope it wasn’t intentional. Rather, I hope it was some kind of mistake or even ignorance.

Credit for the original piece goes to the CBC graphics department.

Credit for the updated version is mine.

Correcting CBS News Charts

One of the long-running critiques of Fox News Channel’s on air graphics is that they often distort the truth. They choose questionable if not flat-out misleading baselines, scales, and adjust other elements to create differences where they don’t exist or smooth out problematic issues.

But yesterday a friend sent me a graphic that shows Fox News isn’t alone. This graphic came from CBS News and looked at the California recall election vote totals.

If you just look at the numbers, 66% and 34%, well we can see that 34 is almost half of 66. So why does the top bar look more like 2/3 of the length of the bottom? I don’t actually know the animus of the designer who created the graphic, but I hope it’s more ignorance or sloppiness than malice. I wonder if the designer simply said, 66%, well that means the top bar should be, like, two-thirds the length of the bottom.

The effect, however, makes the election seem far closer than it really was. For every yes vote, there were almost two no votes. And the above graphic does not capture that fact. And so my friend asked if I could make a graphic with the correct scale. And so I did.

One really doesn’t need a chart to compare the two numbers. And I touch on that with the last point, using two factettes to simply state the results. But let’s assume we need to make it sexy, sizzle, or flashy. Because I think every designer has heard that request.

A simple scale of 0 to 66 could work and we can see how that would differ from the original graphic. Or, if we use a scale of 0 to 100, we can see how the two bars relate to each other and to the scale of the total vote. That approach would also have allowed for a stacked bar chart as I made in the third option. The advantage there is that you can easily see the victor by who crosses the 50% line at the centre of the graphic.

Basically doing anything but what we saw in the original.

Credit for the original goes to the CBS News graphics department.

Credit for the correction is mine.

Covid Update: 13 September

It’s been a little less than a week since our last Covid-19 update for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Illinois. At the time we had just come back from the Labour Day holiday here in the United States and that left us with two big questions. First, what would the data show after we began to process the tests after the extra time off? Second, would the holiday itself cause any increase in the numbers of new cases?

We also need to remember that last week we had seen some positive signs in some states. And we can start with those states today.

New case curves for PA, NJ, DE, VA, & IL

In New Jersey and Illinois we had the clearest evidence of this fourth wave peaking and new cases, whilst still climbing, slowing down with the seven-day average beginning to fall. The good news continues to be that both states continue to show signs their fourth waves have peaked. In fact, Illinois appears to be beginning a downward trajectory. New Jersey has flattened the curve, in other words exhibiting steady numbers of new cases each day.

Delaware appeared to have peaked, but after a brief dip following the holiday, the numbers have begun to shoot back up again. The seven-day average as of yesterday hit 457 new cases per day, exceeding that spike just prior to Labour Day. In other words, it appears that the fear of the holiday increasing rates of new cases, just as they appeared to be peaking came true in Delaware.

What about Virginia and Pennsylvania? Well in the former we had some indications prior to Labour Day that Virginia may have been approaching a peak of new cases. And now you can throw that out the window. Over the three-day holiday weekend, Virginia added just under 11,000 new cases. This past weekend, only two days, Old Dominion added just over 9,200. Not surprisingly the seven-day average spiked upward yesterday to 4,700 new cases per day. If the fourth wave continues at that pace, it will soon surpass the rates we saw last winter.

And in Pennsylvania the data is also not great. We had seen perhaps the beginning of a decline after a peak prior to Labour Day. In the week since? Well, the numbers of new cases have started climbing once again. In fact, yesterday the seven-day average climbed to just under 4,100 new cases per day. That is still below the spring peak and well below winter, but surpasses the numbers we saw just before Labour Day.

In other words, the fear of Labour Day creating new cases appears to have come true.

So then what about deaths? We know that deaths from any increase in cases won’t manifest in the data for a few weeks.

Death curves for PA, NJ, DE, VA, & IL.

Starting with good news, let’s look at Pennsylvania. Two days after Labour Day the Commonwealth’s seven-day average for deaths reached 30.1 deaths per day. In the almost week since that rate has steadily dropped to 24.3 per day. Ideally we would want to see that trend extend beyond five days. Because if the Labour Day surge persists, it wouldn’t be beyond belief to imagine deaths rising again in coming days.

But that’s also about it for good news. True, Delaware went from 0.9 deaths per day to just 1.0. But that’s more of a stable rate than anything. All the other states have seen their death rates continue to climb of late. Although, we would also expect deaths to peak sometime after the peak in new cases, so this trend makes sense.

In New Jersey deaths climbed from 12.4 to 13.1 per day. Not terrible, but again still an increase in deaths. The worst increases were in Illinois and Virginia. In Illinois deaths have continued to climb, rising from 30.7 last time we wrote to 34.7. But Virginia has seen the worst, despite an apparent dip around Labour Day. Instead people are dying at increasing rates, climbing from 16.7 deaths per day to 27.1 as of yesterday.

Unfortunately, until we see new cases truly peak in Virginia those numbers are likely to continue climbing in coming days and possibly weeks.