Friday, November 21, 2008

I have run out of excuses--THE BLOG IS BACK

As I was saying before I was interrupted by real life--I am happy to report ...Of Cabbages and Kings is returning. I have run out of excuses for not posting and since I am, as we say in the writing business, between contracts, I certainly have the time. So, just to catch up with what the hell is going on outside of politics:

Mommy, there is a hairy elephant in the banana trees-- Michael Critchton died a week too soon. He missed a letter in Nature reporting that an international team of scientists had decoded about 80% of the genetic code of the wooly mammoth. It's not that they are close to actually reconstructing one of the creatures, but it is an interesting step in that direction. They tested the hair of two animals who lived about 20,000 years ago and whose bodies were preserved in permafrost. In combination, think they have identified 70% of the genome of the mammoth. Wooly mammoths are closer to contemporary elephants than humans are to chimps, so instead of some day trying to reconstruct a mammoth from mammoth DNA, the quickest route to recreating the beast may be to use elephant DNA and add genes that are unique to the mammoth. Now they just have to sequence elephants.

But that was a virtual penis, dear--Let's say a woman catches her husband screwing another woman. She gets appropriately pissed, throws him out of the house and often files for divorce. Now, however the world has changed. People go to places like Second Life as avatars of varying fictionality [sic]. What would a woman do if she found her husband's avatar shtupping the avatar of another woman? Is that adultry? Virtual adultry? This is going to be hard to follow but we'll try.

Two Brits, Amy Taylor (28, a.k.a. "Laura Skye" in tight cowboy garb) and David Pollard (40, a.k.a. "David Barmy," suave and goateed), who actually met on line and moved in together, had avatars on Second Life. One day Taylor discovered Pollard having virtual sex with a virtual prostitute on line. She ended the relationship between "Skye" and "Barmy" on Second Life but kept living with him in the real world.

To test him, she hired a virtual private eye to try and seduce "Barmy" and he passed the test. So Taylor and Pollard actually got married both on Second Life and in what passes for reality. But it didn't last. She caught him on line having a deep and intimate discussion with an American avatar and divorced him, both on Second Life and in the real world. She told the Guardian: "It may have started on-line but it existed entirely in the real world and it hurts just as much," she said. "His was the ultimate betrayal. He had been lying to me." Pollard insists his avatar and the other avatar were just friends.

Aren't you glad I'm back?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"I'm mad as hell and won't take it any more!"

OK, we're not moving to Canada--In the wonderful Paddy Cheyefsky film "Network," there is a scene in which Americans slam open their windows and shout the above. They are mad as hell and they won't take it any more. That's what happened yesterday. It was a total rejection of Bush, Cheney and the neocons. It was a rejection of the Republican party and a repudiation of the conservative movement. This allegedly "right of center" country just had a tectonic shift to the left. And about damned time.

OK, how did all that polling turn out? All the polls predicted an Obama victory but a lot of them were really off. Obama won 52-46, a six point victory that many, but not all of the pollsters got right. Some, like Zogby (Reuters), Gallup, CBS-New York Times, and ABC-Washington Post, were wrong, giving Obama far more of a margin than he actually got., which I used a lot, got Obama's percentage right but got McCain's wrong by 2, which is pretty close. Nate Silver and Fivethirtyeight, got it right on the money. (Zogby sent out a nasty little note criticizing Silver and his background in SABR baseball statitics after Silver criticized one of Zogby's weirder results. Silver got his revenge). The poll that got it right on the money was the Rasmussen. Both academic polls, Pollyvote and Princeton were correct. So, polling works even in strange elections.

I spent yesterday in Harrisburg, PA as a canvasser for Obama. I can tell you first hand how he won.

Every voter in Harrisburg had been canvassed and everyone who showed an interest in voting for Obama has been listed on a computer printout. I did canvassing. That means we went to every one of those people to make sure they had voted or were going to. We were the second shift, meaning they had already been canvassed once during the day. Most people were not home, of course. But there would be a third shift to get them at supper time. If they said they tried to vote but had trouble, we had a number to call to straighten it out. If they said they needed a ride, I had a number to call and a car would show up within an hour to take them to the polling place. (They had more volunteer drivers than there were people needing a ride). We went floor to floor in a senior citizens home, knocking on doors. So every potential Obama voter in Harrisburg was visited three times today and had no excuses for not showing up to vote. Several times Obama canvassers crossed each other on the street. The African-Americans we visited were particularly jolly and they damned well voted.

I ended the day in an Irish bar with my partner with a pumpkin beer.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Free at last! Free at last! Almost--UPDATED

[UPDATE: The final polls have merged at something of a consensus. Obama by 6]

If anyone asks, I've been a shoe salesman all this time--
Either Barack Obama will win the presidency tomorrow or American journalism and public opinion research (political division) will awake Wednesday with all their credibility destroyed. If that happens, both deserve it.

If John McCain actually wins, every political pollster would have been wrong, and every political reporter who based his or her stories on those polls (and they shouldn't for other reasons we can go into later) would have been wrong and and there is no reason to believe those idiots again.

I don't think that is going to happen. With voting one day away (except for the one-third of American voters who have already voted) here is how things stand--if the polls are right:

Every poll, tracking and daily, has Obama ahead by margins ranging from 4 to 13 points. How could that be? All use different techniques to draw their samples and do the actual polling (humans on the telephone vs. computers on the telephone), but more importantly, all use different methods of deciding who is going to vote and who has already voted. Some call cell phones, some don't. So, some of the polls will be wrong, we know that. Polling in these matters usually come within 2 points of reality. If your poll predicts a guy will win by 4 and he wins by 2.6, most pollsters would think it was a normal year. If you come in with 13 and the margin is 4, you have screwed up. As usual, the tracking polls and the daily polls have converged and agree, and some of the polls coming in Monday morning seem to be heading toward Obama +6, which is on the edge of a landslide. These include a few surveys that tend to have a Republican tilt.

I should point out that most experts believe that it doesn't matter which polls are correct: if Obama has anything between a 3 and a 13 point lead, he wins. That plurality will bring the state votes along with it.

The internet sites that average and aggregate the polling, often using statistical manipulations, all seem to agree that Obama will win by 5-6 points and with better than 300 electoral college votes.

(One interesting note, has a story on how Obama gets around a 4 point jump if pollsters get to cells phones).

At this stage, the national poll numbers and the state-by-state poll numbers are in tune. If one goes up, the other does as well. There is no sign whatsover that McCain has tightened either the national or state polling in any substantial manner, certainly not enough to overcome a 5-6 deficit in one day. That doesn't happen. This campaign was essentially over after the second debate and the collapse of the economy. The numbers haven't changed materially since.

We all know how Harry Truman beat Thomas Dewey in 1948 despite predictions from pollsters he would not. The fault then (and in New Hampshire this year) was that they stopped polling too early and missed a late surge. That is not happening this time; pollsters are out in the field as you read this and I'll update it later today when those polls come in. And it is hard to imagine a late surge that would overcome a 5 point deficit. These are not predictions, but with 24 hours or so left, they might as well be.

Some folks, often in economics departments, will stick their necks out and make predictions and most of those sites think Obama will win by 6-7 points, with electoral college votes around 350.

What to watch for? If Obama wins Virginia and/or North Carolina by anything resembling a healthy margin (and those polls close early eastern time), the cake is baked. Go to sleep. If he loses those, bring out your sleeping bags and switch from decaf--it will be, in the words of Bette Davis, "a bumpy ride."

Unless all these polls, everything we know about public opinion surveys, all the bright pundits and reporters are flat wrong. Then, remember, I was always a shoe salesman.