Friday, November 9, 2012

Leader Of The Pack

According to this article, Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight won Tuesday night's battle of the poll aggregation models. But several of the other models did almost as well, providing much better predictions of election night reality than pundits of either the too-close-to-call or Romney-landslide camps.

Now, if someone puts together a metamodel that aggregates the poll aggregation models...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Future Is Nate

Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog predicted Obama's reelection months ago. I'm an Obama supporter, and I knew about Nate's extraordinary success predicting the 2008 election, so I found his 2012 predictions comforting. And, when Obama's numbers started to climb a couple of weeks ago, I stopped worrying about the outcome.

Meantime, I wasn't surprised that many pundits on the right predicted a big Romney win. I'm sure some of them really believed they had better intel. I suspect some knew the truth, but were willing to deceive their audiences. FoxNews has more or less dissolved the boundary between news and entertainment. Why risk a sweet gig by giving people bad news early?

But I was dismayed when NPR stuck with its "too close to call" story, even on election day. If I'm reading Nate's blog, most media folks are reading it. (And both campaigns, too, of course.) But they stayed locked into their poll anyway. As Nate put it in his November 2nd discussion of poll bias:

Nevertheless, these arguments are potentially more intellectually coherent than the ones that propose that the leader in the race is “too close to call.” It isn’t. If the state polls are right, then Mr. Obama will win the Electoral College. If you can’t acknowledge that after a day when Mr. Obama leads 19 out of 20 swing-state polls, then you should abandon the pretense that your goal is to inform rather than entertain the public.

Ouch. The world has changed, NPR. No single poll is the definitive truth, but Nate has a poll aggregation model that comes pretty close. Keep polling, and report your results, but don't ignore the best available information. Your listeners deserve better.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Election Fieldwork #2012-01

We walked the dogs around midnight last night. Most walks include a stop at Dot’s, the famous local diner. A couple of the waitresses dote on Jackson and Sophie; the dogs reciprocate by helping with the bacon backlog.

Dot’s was closed for a private party, après-wedding: crisply-dressed twenty-somethings hanging out around the bar. One of the kids came outside. A young white woman. She sat down on a bench and started petting the dogs. “I love these dogs,” she said.

Then she noticed my Obama t-shirt. “And I love your shirt.”

She told us her story: she’s 25 years old and ready to start a family. So she has no personal stake in the recent Virginia Republican war on women. But she’s horrified that “some 60-year-old men want to control my body.” And she’s angry that they also want to decide who can get married. She thinks the Ryan budget, with its education cuts, is terrible for children, and the war on teachers is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Then the surprising part: she was raised Southern Baptist, very religious, very Republican. Her grandmother sends her “Hokies For Mitt” swag. And she still considers herself a fiscal conservative. She’s pro-small government, and she could definitely see voting Republican sometime in the future. But she didn’t in 2008, her first chance to vote in a presidential election, and she won’t in 2012. The social cost is too much to pay. She was emphatic on the bullshit: people talk small government, then legislate the bedroom and the womb. People talk family values, then balance the budget on the shoulders of poor children.

It was clear from the phrases she used, and the way she organized her thoughts, that she wasn’t ranting off the top of her head. She’d thought, and studied, and talked about this a lot. And Dot’s was full of her friends.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

I Blame Paul Ryan

In the 24 hours since Romney picked Paul Ryan:

  • Someone broke into our toolshed;
  • My wife’s email got hacked;
  • The neighbor’s dog got loose;
  • We found a black widow spider living under the back steps.

Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. Really, there’s no way to be sure till Romney releases his tax returns. There’s reason to think that 2009 is a humdinger.

Crimes Against Me

Stacy and I were victims of two very different, very minor crimes in the last 24 hours.

Sometime last night, someone broke into our backyard shed. There’s been a lot of that in Bellevue lately. He opened the padlocked side door of the shed by tearing the hasp out of the doorframe. As far as we can see, he didn’t take anything - another advantage to a manual mower and a reluctance to use power tools. I reattached the hasp with much longer screws, and I added a deadbolt on the inside. Next time, he’ll have to work a little harder to steal nothing.

Then, this morning, I got an email from Stacy that wasn’t really from Stacy. Maybe one of her email accounts was hacked. Maybe some spammer is spoofing her name. It might even be a coincidence - Stacy’s last name is pretty common. Gmail sent the email to my inbox instead of the spam folder because it “knows” I get lots of email from Stacy.

Whatever - to be safe, Stacy changed all her email passwords.

The contrast struck me - old-school break-in on the one hand, possible cybercrime on the other.

You kids with your cybercrime. Why, when I was your age, we had to leave the house if we wanted to steal something!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Romney's Chutzpah

Even by the standards of a candidate desperate for national office, Mitt Romney has an unusually fluid approach to the issues. He’s been on both sides of pretty much every major question of the last twenty years:


(Citations here.)

Romney’s not a political newcomer, and he’s certainly not stupid. So how can he imagine that this extraordinary record of flipflopping won’t cost him votes?

Adam Gopnik offers a possible answer towards the end of this long article on Mormonism:

When, in 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the rule prohibiting blacks from serving as priests, one church leader, Bruce McConkie, explained, “It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June 1978.” You could find, or think you’ve found, a similar logic behind Romney’s blithe amnesia when it comes to the things he used to think and say.

Maybe. Or maybe it has nothing to do with Mormon culture, and it’s some kind of Mitt-specific moral void. Either way, it’s a fascinating, brazen attitude in a presidential wanna-be. Etch A Sketch indeed.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Republican For A Day

I'm planning to vote for President Obama in November. I'm also planning to vote for Ron Paul in next Tuesday's Virginia Republican primary. (The only two choices in Virginia are Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.)

First, let's be clear: this is completely legal. When you register to vote in Virginia, you don't select a party affilitation. So any registered voter can vote in any party's primary. And there's no obligation to support the same party in the general election.

Now, I don't doubt that Mitt Romney will eventually stumble into the Republican nomination. He has more money, and sanity, than his rivals. So what's the point? Well, a strong Ron Paul showing is a splinter that Romney can't ignore, lest it become a populist infection. Romney's Super PAC will have to spend a few zillion dollars attacking Paul. And the more they spend in the primary season, the less they'll have left to spend against Obama in the general election.

But is this ethical? That's a tough question, one I'll defer to Mitt himself:

In Massachusetts, if you register as an independent, you can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary,” said Romney, who until he made an unsuccessful run for Senate in 1994 had spent his adult life as a registered independent. “When there was no real contest in the Republican primary, I’d vote in the Democrat primary, vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for the Republican.


Thanks, Mitt. Good idea.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Whole New Kind of Republican Crazy

Birther crap is no longer acceptable in polite Republican circles. Even Donald Trump has moved on. So I was fascinated to see this in a Slate article on the Keystone pipeline:

Jim Oddie, a scuba instructor who’d driven an hour to see Gingrich, ticked off the reasons Obama might have nixed the pipeline. “He doesn’t play for our team,” he said. “He wasn’t raised in the mainland of the United States. He doesn’t think America is exceptional. Come on—he grew up in Hawaii in 1961 when it had been a state for less than two years. Spent time in Indonesia.”

Yeah, okay, Obama is a U.S. citizen, they'll concede that. But Hawaii? Barely a state when he was born. Who knows what was going on over there back then? Statehood's like a superglue with a really really long drying time. It doesn't firm up overnight. Or over a couple of years. Bottom line, Obama's not mainland. Not mainland, not mainstream...

Wow. Anything to disparage Obama, and dissing a whole state is collateral damage. He's, you know, Hawaiian. If they're really American, why did they put their state so far away, anyway?



Friday, January 27, 2012

Romney: Definitely Not Stupid

Mitt Romney had a good debate last night. Maybe he bested Gingrich. He definitely got at least a draw. That's reassuring.

I say this as a hard-core liberal. I very much hope that President Obama gets another four years to fix the Bush mess. But, if that doesn't happen, I'll sleep a lot easier with Romney in the White House than I would with Gingrich. Gingrich is truly scary. He doesn't accept the role of the courts. There's a chance he'd wind up on the other side of an impeachment trial. As ironically satisfying as that would be, it's not what the country needs.

I also like the way Romney raised his game: he got a good coach. So Romney's smart: he had a problem. He brought in an expert. He absorbed the expertise remarkably quickly, and put it to good use.

That bodes well for someone who, let's face it, doesn't seem to have any core beliefs beyond the idea that he ought to be president. If he ends up with the job, he'll hire smart people, he'll listen to them, and he'll understand what they're saying. He may push some economic and social policies that I hate, but he probably won't drag us into any pointless wars. As Republican presidents go, that's a big improvement.