Whilst We Wait for Roe…

to be overturned by the Supreme Court, as seems likely, states have been busy passing laws to both restrict and expand abortion access. This article from FiveThirtyEight describes the statutory activity with the use of a small multiple graphic I’ve screenshot below.

Too much colour for my liking

Each little map represents an action that states could have taken recently, for example in the first we have states banning abortion before 13 weeks, i.e. a nearly total ban on abortion. It uses dots, for this map orange, to indicate legislative acts to that effect. But if states have passed multiple legislative acts, e.g. South Dakota when it comes to banning specific types or reasons for abortion, multiple dots are used.

I generally like this, but would have liked to have seen an overview map either at the beginning or end that would put all the states together in context. Dot placement, especially for states like Kentucky, would be tricky, but it would go a way to show how complex and convoluted the issue has become at the state level.

Credit for the piece goes to Ryan Best.

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.

One Million Covid-19 Deaths

This past weekend the United States surpassed one million deaths due to Covid-19. To put that in other terms, imagine the entire city of San Jose, California simply dead. Or just a little bit more than the entire city of Austin, Texas. Estimates place the number of those infected at about 80 million. Back of the envelope maths puts that fatality rate at 1.25%. That’s certainly lower than earlier versions of the virus, which has evolved to be more transmissible, but thankfully less lethal than its original form.

Sunday morning I opened the door to my flat and found the Sunday edition of the New York Times waiting for me with a sobering graphic not just above the fold, nor across the front page. No, the graphic—a map where each dot represents one Covid-19 death—wrapped around the entire paper.

Above the fold
Full page
Full spread

You don’t need to do much more here. Black and white colour sets the tone simply enough. Of course, a bit more critically, these maps mask one of the big issues with the geographic spread of not just this virus but many other things: relatively few people live west of the Mississippi River.

Enormous swathes of the plains and Rocky Mountains have but few farmers and ranchers living there. Most of the nation’s populous cities are along the coast, particularly the East Coast, or along rivers or somewhat arbitrary transport hubs. You can see those because this map does not actually plot the locations of individual deaths, but rather fills county borders with dots to represent the deaths that occurred within those limits. That’s why, particularly west of the Mississippi, you see square-shaped concentrations of deaths.

A choropleth map that explores deaths per capita, that is after adjusting for population, shows a different story. (This screenshot comes from the New York Times‘ data centre for Covid-19.

A somewhat different story

The story here is literally less black and white as here we see colours in yellows to deep burnt crimsons. Whilst the big map yesterday morning concentrated deaths in the Northeast, West Coast, and around Chicago we see here that, relative to the counties’ populations, those same areas fared much better than counties in the plains, Midwest, and Deep South.

A quick scan of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states shows that only one county, Juniata in Pennsylvania, fell into the two worst deaths per capita bins—the deeper reds. Juniata County sits squarely in the middle of Pennsyltucky or Trumpsylvania, where Covid countermeasures were not terribly popular. No other county in the region shares that deep red.

Look to the southeast and south, however, and you see lots of deep and burnt crimsons dotting the landscape. This doesn’t mean people didn’t die in the Northeast, because of course they did. Rather, a greater percentage of the population died elsewhere when, as the policies enacted by the Northeast and West Coast show, they didn’t need to.

After all, injecting bleach was never a good idea.

Credit for the piece goes to Jeremy White.


Well we made it through the week. Yesterday we looked at plate tectonics and the future shape of the world. So today it’s time to look at a map recently made by xkcd. Specifically it looks at the world through the lens of Madagascar.

Now try to roll it up onto a sphere.

Greenland isn’t as big as it looks on Google Maps. So this piece fixes that by placing Madagascar in its place.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

The Continents Will Fall Off the Flat Earth

To be clear, we know the Earth is round. At least most people know that. Some people delude themselves. We also know that sitting atop the mantle we have plates of rock that move around. Sometimes they slip underneath others. Other times they collide and crumple. Plate tectonics explain why there are so many similarities between continents separated by an ocean.

But while that explains historical connections, what does it say about the future? The fact is that we don’t know for certain. Luckily a recent BBC article explored four different scenarios. And they included graphics, here’s a screenshot of one of them.

They called this scenario Aurica

The graphics are pretty simple with green continents and blue oceans. But they work really well for showing the scenarios. The maps also include black lines for subduction zones, i.e. lines along which the plates that define the ocean floor, and the white lines represent mid-ocean ridges. Those are where the ocean plates diverge and in the process create new ocean floor. The designers also included some labels to help the audience understand just what green shape came from today’s continents.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

The Potential Impacts of Throwing Out Roe v Wade

Spoiler: they are significant.

Last night we had breaking news on two very big fronts. The first is that somebody inside the Supreme Court leaked an entire draft of the majority opinion, written by Justice Alito, to Politico. Leaks from inside the Supreme Court, whilst they do happen, are extremely rare. This alone is big news.

But let’s not bury the lede, the majority opinion is to throw out Roe v. Wade in its entirety. For those not familiar, perhaps especially those of you who read me from abroad, Roe v Wade is the name of a court case that went before the United States Supreme Court in 1971 and was decided in 1973. It established the woman’s right to an abortion as constitutionally protected, allowing states to enact some regulations to balance out the state’s role in concern for women’s public health and the health of the fetus as it nears birth. Regardless of how you feel about the issue—and people have very strong feelings about it—that’s largely been the law of the United States for half a century.

Until now.

To be fair, the draft opinion is just that, a draft. And the supposed 5-3 vote—Chief Justice Roberts is reportedly undecided, but against the wholesale overthrow of Roe—could well change. But let’s be real, it won’t. And even if Roberts votes against the majority he would only make the outcome 5-4. In other words, it looks like at some point this summer, probably June or July, tens of millions of American women will lose access to reproductive healthcare.

And to the point of this post, what will that mean for women?

This article by Grid runs down some of the numbers, starting with laying out the numbers on who chooses to have abortions. And then ultimately getting to this map that I screenshot.

That’s pretty long distances in the south…

The map shows how far women in a state would need to travel for an abortion with Roe active as law and without. I’ve used the toggle to show without. Women in the south in particular will need to travel quite far. The article further breaks out distances today with more granularity to paint the picture of “abortion deserts” where women have to travel sometimes well over 200 miles to have a safe, legal abortion.

I am certain that we will be returning to this topic frequently in coming months, unfortunately.

Credit for the piece goes to Alex Leeds Matthews.

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 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.