The Flood

It’s hard to even imagine the devastation visited on the city of Derna, Libya this week by flooding and resulting dam burst. This report from the BBC includes some drone footage that might hint at what people there are going through:

The upper estimate for the number of people killed in the dam burst catastrophe in Derna, Libya is 20,000 people. For comparison, that’s about the size of Westminster, Maryland or Maitland, Florida.

Imagine Westminster or Maitland suddenly wiped off the map, washed out to sea by a hundred-foot wall of water.

Postscript: some other places with a population of approximately 20,000 that you might be more familiar with:

My 2022 Weird and Wonderful World Cup Awards

Argentina's Lionel Messi kisses the World Cup trophy
Finally – Argentina’s superstar player Lionel Messi has won the World Cup

Time to give out my awards for the just-completed Men’s World Cup of soccerfootball! This has been the most controversial, most entertaining, and downright weirdest World Cup since I started following men’s soccerfootball World Cups twenty-eight years ago, so giving out awards should be extra fun this time.

Today, I’ll review the tournament, and the USA’s performance in it, and give out some team and individual awards. With video links to some match highlights and some key moments in the matches! Wednesday, I’ll review some of the moments that made this World Cup a classic.

On to the awards!

Team Awards

Best team: Argentina, who won the World Cup final in a penalty kick shootout against defending champions France. The final was the most exciting game of soccerfootball I remember. See below for more about that.

Worst team: The host country, Qatar. The country hosting the World Cup automatically qualifies for the tournament, even if they wouldn’t have qualified otherwise and have no business being there. Qatar played bravely and didn’t embarrass themselves, but they were obviously outclassed and became the first country ever to lose all three of their group stage games, scoring just one goal and giving up seven.

Most disappointing team: Sigh, my Sainted Spouse‘s homeland of Belgium. The “Red Devils” crashed out of the first round after scoring only one goal against last-placed Canada. Germany and Mexico also disappointed by falling out in the first round, but at least they scored multiple goals along the way.

Most entertaining team: Morocco, who became the first African country ever to make the World Cup semifinals. Their second-round game against their former colonial overlords Spain was the best display of defense I have ever seen. The game ended 0-0 after overtime, and Spain’s weaksauce penalty shots helped Moroccan goalkeeper Bono (yes, his nickname really is Bono) save all three. Morocco won 0(3) to 0(0). Watch the highlights of that game below under “Best Game That Wasn’t the Final”:

Morocco then repeated the solid defensive performance, but scored a goal too, as they beat Portugal 1-0 in the quarterfinals. Amazingly, up to that point they had gone five full games, 330+ minutes, without allowing a single opposition goal (the one goal they gave up to Canada was an own goal). And then it took one of the best goals of the tournament, by France’s Theo Hernandez, to break the drought (that link, sadly still available only in the USA, goes directly to Hernandez’s goal. Morocco lost that game 2-0, and then went on to lose the third place game 2-1 to Croatia. The real World Cup championship was the friends they made along the way (including me, I was cheering wildly for Morocco all through the France game).

My meme contribution at halftime. This almost aged hilariously badly, except Argentina held on to win in penalty kicks.

Best game: The final. Argentina led 2-0 at halftime after dominating the first half so much that I posted this dead horse meme with labeled the horse “France.” Hahahahaha that seemed like a good idea at the time.

But then France came back in the second half, culminating with Kylian Mbappé scoring two goals within a one-minute span in the last 10 minutes. Argentina scored in overtime, but then then Mbappé added a penalty kick goal for France to make it 3-3 at the end of overtime.

A tied game after overtime meant penalty kicks to decide the World Cup. France missed one and had one saved by Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez, and Argentina made all theirs. Argentina won by the final score (the second number is successful penalties) of Argentina 3(4) France 3(2).

If you haven’t watched highlights of the final, watch them right now in the video below. Unfortunately, this video, and all the other videos I have embedded or linked to here in this post, are available only to computers in the United States. But here are links to highlights of the final that you can watch from Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Australia. (I’ll go back and add equivalent links to other highlights as time permits. If you would like a link for your country, email me at

If you’re not a soccerfootball fan, you will be after you see this game.

The most exciting World Cup final ever: Argentina 3(4) France 3(2)

Worst game: Uruguay and South Korea, two teams with successful recent histories in the World Cup, somehow combine for only one shot on target in a spectacularly boring 0-0 in the first match in Group H. I’m not linking to highlights of this one, because why would anyone want to see that?

Craziest game: Saudi Arabia 2 Argentina 1, maybe the craziest game and biggest upset in World Cup history. After an early penalty gave Argentina a 1-0 lead, the Argentines had three first-half apparent goals called back due to offside. Saudi Arabia had two goals early in the second half off of shots that were objectively unwise, but with some luck and skill made it into the back of the net. In particular, the second goal, scored by Salem Al-Dasawri, was beautiful. And that’s it, those were the Saudis’ only shots on goal for the game, and both went in. The Saudis then held on to the win thanks to two amazing saves from goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais.

It was a stunning upset at the time, and even more shocking now that we know that Argentina went on to win the World Cup.

The craziest game of this, and maybe any, World Cup: Saudi Arabia 2 Argentina 1

Best game that wasn’t the final: As mentioned above under Most Entertaining Team, the second round game between Morocco and Spain, which ended on penalty kicks with the final score Morocco 0(3) Spain 0(0). Watch the highlights below.

“Best” Clemsoning: Brazil was the pre-tournament favorite, and dominated all their group stage matches (even including their final 1-0 loss to Cameroon by essentially their B team, after they had already guaranteed qualification to the second round). Then, back to their full-strength starting 11, they dominated South Korea 4-1 in a game that was not even as close as the score indicated. In the quarterfinals, after a scoreless regulation, they led Croatia 1-0 – and gave up a soft goal to Bruno Petković with just five minutes left to send the game to a penalty shootout.

That’s definitely some serious attempted Clemsoning right there, but they’re still in it… and they’re still Brazil, right? Then this happens (the embed is to the Clemson moment, make sure you play this video with the sound on, the doink off the post is epic):


With that doink by Marquinhos, Croatia won 1(4) to 1(2) and advanced to the semifinals.

Individual Awards

Golden Boot (most goals scored): Kylian Mpabbé (France), with eight. In fact, it was the most goals scored in a World Cup since Ronaldo (the Brazilian one) scored eight in 2002.

Golden Boot when you don’t count penalties, which are bullshit: Still Kylian Mbappé, with six.

Best player, I’m cheating by picking two: Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Kylian Mbappé (France). They were the two leading scorers of the tournament, by far. Mpabbé scored eight goals, including three in the final. Messi scored seven, including two in the final, and dominated possession, creating plenty of scoring chances throughout the tournament. Seventy-nine minutes into the final, I was convinced that I was giving the award to Messi.

Then Mbappé scored on a penalty kick in the 80th minute, then tied the score with this beauty (link goes directly to the goal). OK, maybe Mbappé is tournament MVP?

Then Messi scores with 12 minutes left in overtime. OK, the best player comes up big in the biggest moments, so Messi gets the nod.

Then Argentina gets a penalty called for a handball in the box with just four minutes left, leading to Mbappé setting up for the highest-pressure moment any player could ever face. He calmly converts, making the score 3-3 and sending the game to decisive penalty kicks. Mbappé converts the first penalty kick of the shootout, and Messi the second. Everything from that point was not, and could not, involve them.

So no matter who went on to win the final (belated spoiler: it was Argentina), both players played well enough that I’m giving them both a co-award.

It’s not that I couldn’t decide, it’s that both of them were so equally good that I have to give the award to both.

Best “Hi Mom, I’m Playing in the World Cup”: Brazil’s third-string goalkeeper Weverton, from Brazilian Wyoming (the state of Acre), came on in the 80th minute against South Korea, and did not face a single shot. It was Weverton’s first minutes in the World Cup, and at age 34 likely his last. He touched the ball twice – but he made his contribution, and he’ll always get to say he played for Brazil in the World Cup.

American Exceptionalism Awards for American Americans in America

How did the United States Men’s National Team do?: About as expected. The USMNT dominated possession in the first game against Wales and led 1-0 after a goal by Tim Weah, but Walker Zimmerman gave up a dumb penalty that Gareth Bale converted for disappointing a 1-1 tie that . They then played an even game with former colonial overlord England, ending in a moderately entertaining 0-0 tie. That left the USMNT needing a win in the final group stage game against Iran. Late in the first half, star forward Christian Pulisic scored while getting kneed in the abdomen – watch the replay below!

The USA held on to win 1-0, finish second in their group, and advance to a second round matchup with the Netherlands – where they promptly forgot how to play defense in a 3-1 loss.

Like I said, it’s about where the USA was expected – and deserved – to finish. We are definitely one of the 16 best men’s national teams in the world, and definitely not one of the top 8.

USAMVP: Defender Sergiño Dest, who created the most chances all tournament, including an assist on Pulisic’s decisive goal against Iran.

Thankful for Data

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

It gives us all a chance to reflect on what we are thankful for. I have so many things to be grateful for, including this blog, and you the reader. And I’m grateful for the skills I have developed in data science.

I love the idea that there is truth hidden in plain sight, if only we have the patience to look for it.

And now we have two fun data science problems to work on. First, we are near the end of the vote counting for the 118th U.S. House of Representatives. Just three seats remain! Republicans now hold a 220-212 edge – enough for majority control, but far short of their expectations.

And here is the visualization:

The current state of the House of Representatives, with just three seats still undecided.
Red = Republican
Blue = Democratic
White = party undecided
Click for a full-size version.

Results we have learned since last time:

California-3: Republican state assembly member Kevin Kiley

California-22: Republican incumbent David Valadao

California-34: Democratic incumbent Jimmy Gomez

California-47: Democratic incumbent Katie Porter

Still undecided:

Alaska at large: the entire state

California-13: Merced and surrounding areas

Colorado-3: Pueblo, Grand Junction, and the rural western third of the state

And I now have a Data Challenge from a random person on the Internet. He claims that there was no excess mortality in Europe in 2020, but there has been excess mortality in 2022. (Excess mortality is defined as the number of annual deaths above the baseline for the previous several years.) Since there was a global pandemic in 2020 that has abated by 2022, that seems crazy – but I can test the idea myself. I’m now getting the data from the European Mortality Monitoring program (EuroMOMO) of the European Centers for Disease Control.

I’ll let you know what I find.

Thanks for reading, and here’s to many more years of gratitude!

Where It All Began

A blue sign saying "武汉华南海鲜批发市场" above a gate and parking sign
The Wuhan South China Seafood Market as seen from the street

Three years ago, right about this time, a killer was beginning to kill. We had no idea at the time, but our lives were about to change forever.

Word began to spread on December 31st, 2019. That day, the Municipal Health Commission of Wuhan, China told the World Health Organization (WHO) that a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown cause had been observed in the city. That cause, of course, would turn out to be the new disease now known as COVID-19. Disease detectives from WHO and other organizations began to trace the contacts of people who had been infected. And their search led them to the one place that nearly all patients had visited:

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market

The map above shows the Huanan Seafood Market (in Chinese, 武汉华南海鲜批发市场, Wǔhàn Huánán Hǎixiān Pīfā Shìchǎng) was a market at 207 Fa Zhan Da Dao in the Jiangshan District in the city of Wuhan, in east-central China. It appears to have been torn down, but this Google Earth historic image shows what it looked like from space in October 2019, right around the time the virus likely arrived there:

The Huanan Seafood Market from space in October 2019 (from Google Earth)

And of course the photo at the top of the post shows what it looks like from the street.

Wuhan is huge – home to 12 million people – nearly twice the population of New York City. And Huanan Seafood Market was the largest market of its kind in the city. It frequently gets described in English-speaking media as a “wet market,” but I don’t actually know what that means, so I’ll just call it a market.

The market sold mostly fish and other seafood, but one section specialized in wild game – what in Chinese is called 野味 (yěwèi), meaning “wild taste.” Wild game can mean just about anything; an old South Chinese saying is that “Chinese people will eat anything with four legs except a table.” Although the wild ancestor of the human SARS-CoV-2 virus has its reservoir in bats, genetic evidence suggests that it passed through another organism before arriving in humans. The most likely culprit is the pangolin, a small, endangered, adorable mammal native to south China, and formerly a popular wild game animal until its consumption was banned in China in mid-2020.

From bats to pangolins to the seafood market to a few unknown humans, the virus began its spread around the world, as I had tracked for quite a long time on this blog (like this just one of tragically many updates).

As the virus spread around the world, so too did false conspiracy rumor about the spread of the virus. One of the most powerful and lasting has been the rumor that the virus was genetically engineered by humans, either as a bioweapon by the Chinese government or escaped in a lab accident. The rumor started in February 2020, spread quickly online and in person by many well-meaning people and… not well-meaning people.

If the mountains of epidemiological and genomic evidence isn’t enough to convince any of the well-meaning people who have shared this rumor, this probably won’t be either. But for what it’s worth…

I recently saw an Internet Opinion Piece asking: how likely is it that the outbreak started at the market rather than at the virology lab LESS THAN ONE MILE AWAY???!!!1!!??

Surely the Internet wouldn’t lie about such an easily verifiable fact, right? lol

From Google Earth: the Wuhan Institute of Virology is 7.5 miles (12 km) away from the Huanan Seafood Market, across the Yangtze River
The distance between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Huanan Seafood Market: 7.5 miles

Conspiracy rumors and false information rely on passive consumers who don’t even bother to check whether what they are reading is true. Always check!

2022 Election: And then there were Seven

Three more seats decided, one to Republicans and two to Democrats. Republicans now hold a 218-210 edge, enough for a majority of seats. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-20) will be House Majority Leader.

Updated map – as always, click for a larger view:

The current state of the House of Representatives, with 7 seats undecided.
Red = Republican
Blue = Democratic
White = party undecided
Click for a full-size version.

Results we now know:

California-27: Republican incumbent Mike Garcia

California-49: Democratic incumbent Mike Levin

Maine-2: Democratic incumbent Jared Golden

Still undecided:

Alaska at large: the entire state

California-3: the rural Sierra Nevada mountains and the northeastern suburbs of Sacramento, including Roseville

California-13: Merced and surrounding areas

California-22: The eastern half of Bakersfield and rural areas to the north

California-34: The eastern part of the city of Los Angeles

California-47: Long Beach and coastal Orange County

Colorado-3: Pueblo, Grand Junction, and the rural western third of the state

It will likely be a few days until the last seven races are decided – all are close enough that it will matter which voters follow up to “cure” ballots they cast on Election Day that were later ruled invalid.

What does the new Republican majority mean? Obviously, they will be able to pass legislation with a simple majority vote. As is always true even in the most divisive times, most of this legislation will be uncontroversial and will be quickly passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Biden. Obviously some will be controversial.

But the smaller the majority, the harder it will be to pass controversial legislation. Just as Democratic senators have had to convince Joe Manchin (D-WV) to vote with the party, Republican representatives will need to convince moderates who won in close elections – from places like Binghamton, New York (Brandon Williams, R-NY-22) and Scottsdale, Arizona (Juan Ciscomani, R-AZ-6). Banning gay marriage and endlessly investigating Hunter Biden might be popular in traditional Republican strongholds in the deep south, but will it play in Peoria (Darin LaHood, R-IL-16)?

It’s tempting to say “Republicans always follow the party line,” but historically that hasn’t always been the case, especially in the House. Ultimately this is an empirical question, and we will begin to know the answer in less than two months.

Updates as we have them.

2022 Election: And then there were Ten

Four more seats decided, all to Democrats. Republicans now hold a 217-208 edge, meaning they are still just one seat away from claiming a majority. Don’t get your hopes up (or down), Republicans are leading in enough remaining seats that they will definitely get at least one more.

Updated map – as always, click for a larger view:

The current state of the House of Representatives, with 10 seats undecided.
Red = Republican
Blue = Democratic
White = party undecided
Click for a full-size version.

Results we now know:

California-6: Democratic incumbent Ami Bera

California-9: Democratic incumbent Josh Harder (write your own “that’s what she said” joke in the comments)

California-21: Democratic incumbent Jim Costa

Colorado-8: Democratic state assembly member Yadira Caraveo

Still undecided:

Alaska at large: the entire state

California-3: the rural Sierra Nevada mountains and the northeastern suburbs of Sacramento, including Roseville

California-13: Merced and surrounding areas

California-22: The eastern half of Bakersfield and rural areas to the north

California-27: Northern Los Angeles County, including Lancaster, Palmdale, Glendora, and Pasadena

California-34: The eastern part of the city of Los Angeles

California-47: Long Beach and coastal Orange County

California-49: Oceanside and San Juan Capistrano

Colorado-3: Pueblo, Grand Junction, and the rural western third of the state

Maine-2: Mostly-rural northern and eastern Maine

When will we know the full composition of the House? What will the final party count be? No idea!

The mission of these posts is not to speculate, the mission is to provide up-to-date, accurate, beautiful maps. Stay tuned for updates.