Benford Test in Milwaukee is No Indication of Ballot Shenanigans

Benford Analysis is a statistical test commonly used in forensic accounting to identify potential fraud. With partisan suspicions naturally elevated in the wake of the 2020 Presidential Election, a flurry of articles has hit the Internet suggesting use of the technique to spot potentially fraudulent returns, focusing in particular on Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee. An example is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLdPRwvwc2Y

I looked at Milwaukee’s returns by ward in an effort to understand the mechanics of the test and to satisfy myself whether or not it had value in spotting fraudulent election returns. I quickly concluded that the apparent “failure” in Milwaukee is an artifact of precinct size and Biden’s relative dominance in a large number of smaller precincts. Trump got trounced in these smaller wards while he held his own in the bigger ones. A typical Milwaukee ward might total 800 votes breaking 10 to 40% for Trump, so Biden precincts with totals in the 400s to 700s were in relative abundance. The “anomaly” is explainable without fraud (see Occam’s Razor).

The source of the Milwaukee returns by ward is at the website github.com (access requires free registration). The graphs of the Biden (blue) & Trump (red) curves are shown below. The “first digit” analysis of Trump’s precinct totals conforms reasonably well to the pattern anticipated by Benford’s Law (grey); Biden’s does not. The “hump” in the first digits 4 through 7 is the supposed red flag.

Here is a histogram of the size of the total Biden + Trump vote by ward:

90% of the precincts had vote totals < 1620. The average is about 945 votes per ward and the median is 809. 50% of the precincts had vote totals between 560 and 1,220.

Here are the histograms by candidate. The bin sizes don’t exactly match but they are close enough for illustrative purposes. You can see that the majority of Biden’s votes came in chunks of 200 to 800 votes per ward.

This is a stacked column graph of the Trump vote (red) and the Biden vote (blue).

The lower-numbered precincts on the left side of the chart are presumably older and smaller and they obviously vote more Democratic. This is where the bulge in the snake comes from.

Just on the “1’s”, Trump had 10 precinct totals in the 1000’s (1,000 to 1,999), 85 in the 100’s, 13 in the 10’s, & 1 “1”. Total of 109.

Biden’s corresponding totals were 72 in the 1000’s, 14 in the 100’s. Total of 86.

But on the 5’s, Biden had 72 counts in the 500’s. Trump had 1 “5”, 16 “50’s” and 19 in the 500’s, a total of 36.

A quick desktop drill-down on the Milwaukee numbers explains to my satisfaction how the “anomalous distribution” of first digits came to be, and why it is not an indication of fraud. I’m an engineer by training and profession, not a statistician, but I’d bet my paycheck Benford Analysis is a blind alley for those seeking evidence of ballot shenanigans, at least in Milwaukee.

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Justified: Eight months of Paranoia about Ballot Integrity

One can’t be right about everything…
The Byron York opinion piece at the Washington Examiner is a must-read. – Ed.
This is an answer to a question posed at social media site Quora.com.
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There once was a Biden named Hunter …

NY Post Hunter Biden article #1

NY Post Hunter Biden article #2

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Nehemiah Builds a Wall

Today’s scripture lesson and sermon — from the Book of Nehemiah — was quite remarkable. Usually sermons at our large United Methodist church deal with the Gospels, with an occasional detour into the Old Testament for background.
The Book of Nehemiah is essentially a personal memoir. Nehemiah was a cup bearer — sort of a Secret Service/Body Man, as our Senior Pastor tells it — for the Persian king Artaxerxes during the Jews’ exile in Babylon. Ezra had already rebuilt Jerusalem’s temple, but the city was largely an uninhabited wreck. Its gates and its walls had been burned and torn down.Nehemiah prayed, and God told him to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. He secured the king’s blessing and left for Jerusalem. He told the people of the city, “You see the distress we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” (Neh. 2-17 NKJV) [The NIV ends with “… and we will no longer be in disgrace.”]But Nehemiah’s efforts were mocked by powerful elites like Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite, who were apparently the Don Lemon and Rachel Maddow of the 5th century BC.{SPOILER ALERT} Nehemiah used the prodigious management skills he had honed in King Artaxerxes’ court. Under his direction, the Jews of Jerusalem and its environs rebuilt the wall and all its gates in 52 days (!), despite the taunting and the physical threats of their naysayers.The message: Never give up, stay steadfast and believe. Pray and trust in your God. And work hard.I’m sure politics was the farthest thing from the Senior Pastor’s mind <wink>.In researching this thread, I turned to The Student Bible (NIV), 1989 edition (Zondervan). Its commentary on the Book of Nehemiah caused me to laugh out loud. Here’s a select passage:

Nearly 100 years had passed since [Nehemiah’s] people had returned to Jerusalem from exile. Though the temple had been rebuilt, the city was barely occupied. More Jews lived in outlying villages and towns than in the holy city. They mixed with all kinds of foreigners. They were in danger of losing their identity. Why? Partly because the city lacked a wall.
What’s in a Wall?
Compared to many concerns, building a wall may not seem terribly important. But think of it this way — what if the border between Mexico and the U.S. were wide open, so that anyone could cross and live on either side at will? One thing is certain: the distinction between Mexico and Texas would soon dissolve.

I’m thinking Zondervan has updated this text since 1989.Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Nehemiah
https://www.biblestudytools.com/nehemiah/Video of the service (sermon begins at 35:00): https://www.facebook.com/sttimothyumc/videos/2760273854227060

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Hurricane Delta’s Intensity, in Pictures

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I can’t think of a better way to convey the intensity of a tropical cyclone than graphs of pressure and wind velocity vs time from one of NOAA’s permanent weather buoys located in the offshore Gulf of Mexico.

This particular station, #42002, recorded the passage of the eyewall and the eye of Hurricane Delta at about 7:00 pm CDT last evening.

Barometric Pressure

A tropical cyclone is an extreme low-pressure event. The graph below shows just how intense that “vacuum” is: in this case nearly two inches of mercury below normal. It’s not just the pressure reading, but the extreme pressure gradient of the eyewall that leads to high winds and high seas.

Wind speed and gusts

These graphs depict the extreme swings in wind speed experienced when passing from the eyewall into the eye itself. With the storm’s passage, wind direction will also shift, from easterly, to dead calm, to westerly as the counter-clockwise rotation of the storm passes over. At this station, sustained winds were 65 knots with gusts over 85. With the passage of the eye, wind velocity increased back to 55 knots.

Station 42002 is located just below center on the map below. Not all of the stations have active data.

NOAA’s buoy data for the Western Gulf is available here: https://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/maps/WestGulf.shtml

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Gaslight Much, Nancy?

On the Twitter this week, an interesting video snippet of Nancy Pelosi describing a tactic called (in her words) “the wrap-up smear“:

“We call it the ‘wrap-up smear.’ You smear somebody, with falsehoods and all the rest, and then you merchandise it,” Pelosi said at a press conference last year.

“And then you write it, and then they’ll say ‘See? It’s reported in the press that this, this, this and this,’ so they have that validation that the press reported the smear, and then it’s called the ‘wrap-up smear.’ Now I’m going to merchandise the press’s report on the smear that we made.”

Sounds an awful lot like the attempted “suckers and losers” smear of Donald Trump by Jeffrey Goldberg writing last week in The Atlantic. Astute tweeters resurrected the old clip.

In October 2018, Snopes.com “debunked” an Infowars.com post which linked the video clip and observed, “Sounds eerily similar to what we saw happen to Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation process.”

As a longer clip and transcript clearly show, Pelosi was calling out Republicans for conducting wrap-up smear campaigns, not touting the phenomenon as a go-to strategy for Democrats.

Nancy Pelosi is a cagey old pol with a lot of tools in her kit. You’d have to be an idiot to think that she was saying “Here’s our strategy …”

On the other hand, I’m not the first to observe that the Democrats engage in projection: In general, if Dems are accusing the Republicans of something, you can bet they’re guilty of the same thing themselves.

The Democrats tried the wrap-up smear on Justice Kavanaugh, and they tried it again with President Trump. In neither case did the rumors have substance. Of course Nancy’s not going to admit it. She merely described the tactic.

But what really motivated me to write this blog was the “added context” that Snopes provides, the full exchange between Speaker Pelosi and ABC’s Jake Tapper. Since the original article was written, certain facts have been revealed that make the following passage rather hilarious. All the emphasis is mine.

TAPPER: So, let’s start with President Trump’s allegation, so far evidence-free, that President Obama sought to have him wiretapped during the campaign. You’re part of the Gang of Eight. That’s a group of House and Senate leaders, both the leadership and the leadership of the Intelligence Committees, that would be privy, one suspects, to such information. Do you have any idea what he’s talking about?

PELOSI: Well, the president, you know, is the deflector in chief, anything to change the subject from where the heat is. And, as one who has been engaged in intelligence, a member of the Gang of Eight, for a long time, I can tell that it’s just ridiculous for the president, President Trump, to say that President Obama would ever order any wiretap of an American citizen, any president. That’s just not — we don’t do that.

And, so, this is — it’s called a wrap-up smear. You make up something. Then you have the press write about it. And then you say, everybody is writing about this charge.

It’s a tool of an authoritarian, to just have you always be talking about what you want them to be talking about. Rather than Russia, we’re talking about, did President Obama do thus and so?

Turns out, as far as Russian collusion and the Trump campaign, there was no there there. And we’ve pretty well confirmed that President Obama did do “thus and so”.

Who’s the authoritarian? And who is the deflector in chief?

Gaslight much, Nancy?

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“What if it was YOUR (grand)parent?”

That was the rhetorical question posed on the Twitter this morning. The implication being that because our elder population is the demographic most vulnerable to the ravages of the coronavirus, any caring person is for the full monte: quarantine, masks, lockdowns, hobbling the economy, you name it.

As my Mom (not my Dad) would have said, bullsh*t.

Continue reading
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“Dear Dr. Maley Steve”: On the Value of Peer Review

Several hurricane seasons ago, I wrote a letter to the editor of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the most prestigious journals among academic researchers. Even submitting a letter (this one was a rebuttal of a particularly egregious example of junk science that I’ve blogged about before)was an arduous task; it required submission of an academic and professional C.V. which I completed honestly. (I have a B.S. in engineering and I told them I was “Chief of the Operations Directorate” at my company. I was entitled to a little fun, after all.)

So my letter to the editor as published.

Ever since, I occasionally receive email solicitations from various journals to submit papers for “peer-reviewed” publication. Most of them seem to be from third-world countries, but they always have a prestigious-sounding title. The subject matter of these journals ranges from statistics (a topic relevant to my letter) to gynecology (thanks for your consideration …).

They are always addressed to “Dr. Maley”. The most recent example is below.

Dear Dr. Maley Steve,

Greetings! JSM Environmental Science & Ecology is gathering research exploring new frontiers of Environmental Science, exploring investigative areas of basic science to complex Ecology.

Why we reached you?

One of our previous authors recommended your important work entitled on Statistics show no evidence of gender bias in the public’s hurricane preparedness and thus we request your similar important study for publishing to the journal. 

Why us?

·   Global reach-out

·   Research visibility through our social platforms

·   Research Specific Campaigns of your published work-Improving your citations is our basic priority

·   High Profile Subject Experts

·   Stringent Peer Review Process

We invite unique significant work for peer review those are patient centered, share and disseminate knowledge to patients and other stakeholders, and train future leaders of our field.

Current Issue Focus: Environmental Disasters

Closing date: September 10, 2020

We hope that you will join us in our journey to disseminate research in Environment related topics diagnostic tools and treatments, and to answer fundamental questions about Ecology.

Looking forward hearing your valuable response.

Best regards,
Ricky Martin
Editorial Manager– JSM Environmental Science & Ecology

[No discussion of the cost, but it’s usually a few hundred bucks. Ed.]

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Who’s Awarding Pinocchios for Environmental Journalism?

Article at NOLA.com, the online presence of the New Orleans Advocate/Times-Picayune:

Seafloor damage from BP spill vastly underestimated in rush for legal settlement

Excerpt:

Published in the journal PLOS One in June, [Texas A&M researcher Paul] Montagna’s full analysis of his 10-year-old samples showed damage to seafloor organisms stretching across at least 124 square miles. That’s nearly two times larger than the 66-square-mile footprint described in the abbreviated report Montagna turned over for the disaster’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment.

That paragraph is displayed right under the following graphic:

“Oh, my!” you might say. “Seafloor creatures were damaged almost all the way to Destin!”

But wait just a minute…

Even though the title purports to show “Damage to Seafloor Creatures”, note the legend: these blobs portray the areas assessed by Montagna’s study. The little scale bar on the upper right is 20 miles; a square that size would enclose an area of 400 square miles.

It’s not hard to portray the areas actually impacted by the spill; in fact, the graphic is part of the paper (linked in the quote block above).

The scale on the upper image (A) is zoomed in on the Macondo blowout area. The scale of the lower image (B) is comparable to NOLA.com’s in-house graphic; you’ll note Southeastern Louisiana and the mouth of the Mississippi River on the upper left of the image.

The Montagna paper notes:

The footprint of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill … was 321 km2  [124 mi2](Table 2). The most severe impacts were found in an area of approximately 58 km2 [22 mi2] around the Macondo well (Fig 5A). The footprint area of 321 km2 includes only the red and orange zones around the Macondo oil well, but not the coastal areas further to the north, which were likely affected by hypoxia of the “dead zone” (Fig 5B). The shape of the impact zone around the wellhead was approximately elliptical, stretched in an approximate southwest to northeast direction.

Emphasis mine.

The text of the NOLA.com reports the correct size of the assessed damage, but the combination of the headline, the graphic, and its title seem designed to create a lasting, and incorrect, impression of Gulf-wide devastation.

As Montagna’s Table 2 shows, less than 0.3% of the assessed area was rated as severe or moderate impact in the most recent study; 79% was assessed “no impact” or “pristine”.

Why did NOLA.com create an entirely new graphic to go along with the paper when an accurate graphic already existed to portray the true extent of the damage? Your guess is as good as mine, but I suspect it has something to do with advancing a narrative that 10 years out, wide swaths of the Gulf are still reeling from Macondo damage. That narrative is detached from reality.

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We’ve Been Worried About the Wrong Sickness

  1. President Trump – Enough with the tweets, enough with the tough guy act. Our country needs a leader now more than ever. We don’t need another blue-ribbon commission or task force. The peaceful protesters need to feel that justice will be done. Right now, they need evidence that their voice is heard.
  2. You are correct to designate ANTIFA as a terrorist organization. To the extent there are Proud Boys or other extremist groups involved in the violence, they deserve the same designation. These groups may not have an org chart, but they have organization, communication, coordination, and funding. Root it out.
  3. What I know about urban policing I’ve picked up from watching “Blue Bloods”, but I can’t help feeling that police unions and cop culture are a big part of the problem. The alleged bad actor in this case had been reported 18 times for excessive force. Is that typical? Three other cops watched as he kneeled on a cuffed and incapacitated suspect. If what we’re down to is thugs in blue protecting us from thugs in black, we’re toast.
  4. Face masks and distancing have robbed our society of the humanity it had left. Count me out. We need handshakes. We need hugs. We need smiles and affirmation. We need to protect our old folks and get on with our lives.
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