Sunday, November 30, 2008

Polarization and the GOP's Future

This old graph of Nate Silver's, via Yglesias, helps explain some of the GOP's current problems. It plots how liberal the Dems in a state are vs. how conservative the Republicans are. Legend: top-left = polarized states with conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats; top-right = states with moderate Republicans and liberal Democrats; bottom-left = states with moderate Democrats and conservative Republicans; bottom-right = null set. If we take 2.5 on the x-axis as separating moderate and conservative Republicans, most of the Democrats' pickups -- VA, CO, NM, etc. -- come from states in which the Republicans are unusually conservative. If this chart were redone with 2008 data, I'm pretty sure the main difference is that the flipped states would migrate vertically, in the direction of OR and WA: the flipping of polarized states was mostly due to the growth of urban counties, and Obama's ability to get huge margins out of cities and inner suburbs. (See the NYTimes countywise results: Obama's "map" looks the same as Kerry's except that the blue areas are a lot bluer.)

It follows that these shifts are likely to last as long as the GOP retains its current coalition; most of these voters are not really flippable. Roughly speaking, these states consist of (ex-)yuppies, minorities, and hard-right Republicans. (VA and NC have a smattering of old-time "Appalachian" Democrats.) As long as the culture war lasts, the GOP can't peel off yuppies; as long as immigration in the SW and racial issues in the South are on the table, the GOP is doomed with minorities. There's little the national GOP can do about the latter: as long as the states have several hard-right Congressional districts, local Congressmen are going to do things that are perceived as racist, thus discrediting the GOP. Also it's going to be hard for moderate national candidates to win primaries in these states.

Bush and Rove saw this coming and tried to peel off Hispanics; this led to the immigration bill, which caused a grassroots revolt on the right that doomed the GOP with Hispanics this year. If the Democrats do pass an immigration bill, as seems likely -- presumably with McCain and a couple of senators, and over the squawking heads of congressional Republicans -- Hispanics are likely to stay Democratic for a decade or so. As for blacks in VA and NC, they're inaccessible as long as Obama's on the scene; assuming DC, the Research Triangle, and Charlotte continue to grow, these states are going to be hard for Republicans in 2012.

With the upper midwest, CO/NM/NV, and VA off the table, the electoral college is hairy for Republicans even if they win Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, and gain substantially with "soft" Democrats nationwide (say Obama screws up on the economy). This being the case, Ross Douthat's strategy of appealing to poorer social conservatives is not viable in the near term unless, somehow, it can be used to flip Michigan (iffy) or New Jersey (ich don't think so). The intended audience simply isn't living in the right places to make a difference. As far as I can see, the only way out is to appeal to relatively upscale suburban moderates. However, it is not clear that these have enough in common with the Republican base to form a useful coalition.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ocular Logjammin'

Thus S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford, in a generally ill-advised article:
We would be wise to start with the biblical notion of first taking the log out of your own eye before worrying about the splinter in someone else’s.
It was the word "splinter" that caught my eye, but I'm amused by how far Sanford's maxim diverges in thrust from the usual versions. Of the many reasons to want a splinter out of your eye, improved vision is not the most important. Besides, "splinter" imbues "log" with enough vividness to make that metaphor seem rather silly. (cf. here.) The upshot is that when I read Sanford's version of the maxim, it sounds like "put on your life vests before you help other passengers with theirs." Which makes sense, I guess, given his political tendencies.

Hass: First Things at the Last Minute


First Things at the Last Minute
Robert Hass

The white water rush of some warbler’s song.
Last night, a few strewings of ransacked moonlight
On the sheets. You don’t know what slumped forward
In the nineteen-forties taxi or why they blamed you
Or what the altered landscape, willowy, riparian,
Had to do with the reasons why everyone
Should be giving things away, quickly,
Except for spendthrift sorrow that can’t bear
The need to be forgiven and keeps looking for something
To forgive. The motion of washing machines
Is called agitation. Object constancy is a term
Devised to indicate what a child requires
From days. Clean sheets are an example
Of something that, under many circumstances,
A person can control. The patterns moonlight makes
Are chancier, and dreams, well, dreams
Will have their way with you, their way
With you, will have their way.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Messing w/ googlism some years ago, I discovered that Google had a very succinct verdict on my AIM nickname:
gecian is
gecian is correct

Today, I went back, and entered -- for no good reason -- the word "spankle," which yielded:
spankle is miss hope
spankle is an antelope molester

Which seems like the seed of a song or a poem. Flarf flarf.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lori Drew Lives

Remember the Lori Drew case, in which a woman created a fake Myspace profile as a teenage boy to seduce and dump a neighborhood girl who then killed herself? (Said girl having previously dumped said woman's son.) A jury has acquitted Drew of the felony charges, but found her guilty of a misdemeanor, for "gaining unauthorized access to MySpace" (!), which will probably carry no jail time. The case elicited the worst side of everybody involved -- the woman was typical of the Awful Parent, and the New Yorker piece describes the dreadful behavior of all the other self-righteous parents in the area -- and confirmed all my prejudices about the innate nastiness of human nature. As such I shouldn't really have any preexisting sympathies; however, I'm pleased that the mob was thwarted.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Scoring LHC Predictions

This seems truly weird, and either tongue-in-cheek or dumb (see also here). [Summary: physicists get a free pass when they make vague, hard-to-score predictions about the future, but the poor economists are held to a more rigorous standard.] It isn't like we have any empirical reason to believe anything at all about what the LHC will see; the "predictions" are informed but still wild extrapolations. In fact, a good part of the rationale for building the LHC is that we don't know what it will create. If we were pretty confident of which model the LHC would validate, the LHC would be unnecessary. Given a particular model, there are usually inexpensive ($1 mil.) low-energy experiments that can be done to test its weirder low-energy predictions. However, there are hundreds of models out there that are consistent with all existing data, and roughly speaking each low-energy experiment is sensitive to just a couple of those models, so you'd need to do hundreds of experiments. Or alternatively you could just spend all the money at once, smash ultra-high-energy particles into each other, and see what happens.

PS A German computational group just determined that the mass of the proton as predicted by the quark model [ca. 1970] agrees with the mass of the proton as measured in the lab [ca. 1900]. We woz right once again. I think we deserve another free pass for this.

Monday, November 24, 2008

New Look Redux

Turns out the google shared items widget is incompatible with the old format: for some reason, presumably overall font size, everything gets illegibly scrunched up, and since there wasn't an obvious fix for that I just switched the template. Not a big fan of the current look, so there will probably be further changes.

Food We Can Believe In

Much of my favorite writing about food is in Middle English. Here's a famous example (I've modernized the spelling somewhat):

Bring us in good ale

Bring us in good ale and bring us in good ale
For our blessed Lady sake, bring us in good ale.

Bring us in no browne bred for that is mad of bran,
Nor bring us in no whit bred fore therin is is no game [flavour]
But bring us in good ale

Bring us in no befe, for ther is many bones
But bring us in good ale, for that goth down at ones
And bring us in good ale

Bring us in no bacon, for that is passing fat
But bring us in good ale, and give us enought of that
And bring us in good ale

Bring us in no mutton, for that is ofte lene
Nor bring us in no tripes, for they be seldom clene
But bring us in good ale

Bring us in no egges, for ther ar many shelles
But bring us in good ale, and give us nothing elles
And bring us in good ale

Bring us in no butter for therin ar many hores [hairs]
Nor bring us in no pigges flesh, for that will mak us bores
But bring us in good ale

Bring us in no puddinges for therin is all goates blod
Nor bring us in no venison, for that is not for our good
But bring us in good ale

Bring us in no capons flesh for that is often dear
Nor bring us in no duckes flesh for they slobber in the mere
But bring us in good ale

Bring us in good ale and bring us in good ale
For our blessed lady sak, bring us in good ale.

Thinking Outside the Ballot Box

This is a wonderful euphemism (Politico via Althouse):
“Democrats are [thought to be] more creative, free-spirited, so the idea is they’re more likely to make a mistake that the optical scan won’t pick up,” explains Hentges. “But when they recount the hard copy, those votes will be counted for Franken."

Yes, all those Minneapolis-based painters who drew unicorns on the ballot. It's interesting how, since calling minorities illiterate is beyond the pale whereas hippies and elitists are officially mockable, one routinely hears minorities berated for being hippies or elitists. (See also Grobstein.)

I have high hopes for Al Franken's political career, which is bound to culminate in a Franken-Stein presidential run.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

"Tour de Forceps"

It's neat how typos can turn platitudes into something rich and strange. This one, from the comments on an old Krugman post, was very eye-catching; on closer inspection I don't think it's actually a typo, just a half-assed metaphor, but it could have been one:
I must assume that if, in his alter ego of O’Reilly-like rightnews he condemns your book so completely, it must be another of your tour de forceps with which you draw out the truth from the maelstrom of fact and fiction through the medium of your liberal conscience.

Heaney's Oysters

Jenna Krajeski at the NY'er Book Bench has compiled a list of poems about food, with some assistance from Major Poets. There's some good stuff there but to my mind this poem is better than anything on their list.

Seamus Heaney

Our shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight:
As I tasted the salty Pleiades
Orion dipped his foot into the water.

Alive and violated,
They lay on their bed of ice:
Bivalves: the split bulb
And philandering sigh of ocean --
Millions of them ripped and shucked and scattered.

We had driven to that coast
Through flowers and limestone
And there we were, toasting friendship,
Laying down a perfect memory
In the cool of thatch and crockery.

Over the Alps, packed deep in hay and snow,
The Romans hauled their oysters south of Rome:
I saw damp panniers disgorge
The frond-lipped, brine-stung
Glut of privilege

And was angry that my trust could not repose
In the clear light, like poetry or freedom
Leaning in from sea. I ate the day
Deliberately, that its tang
Might quicken me all into verb, pure verb.

Stepping on the Flush

Mary Beard, the English classicist, is puzzled by American customs:
But there are some even stranger things than that. One of my students assured me that in the US (or in the Bay area at least, or maybe just in Berkeley), it was the custom for women using public or restaurant lavatories to operate the flush with their feet – if it was at a reasonable height. It seemed extremely unlikely to me, and strongly suspected my leg was being pulled.. But when I went to the ladies’ rest rooms of the bar in which we were having this conversation, sure enough there were the scuff marks around the flush.

I share her puzzlement.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Glyn Maxwell: Rumpelstiltskin


Glyn Maxwell

"Your name is Rumpelstiltskin!" cried
The Queen. "It's not," he lied. "I lied
The time you heard me say it was."
"I never heard you. It's a guess,"

She lied. He lied: "My name is Zed."
She told the truth: "You're turning red,
Zed." He said: "That's not my name!"
"You're turning red, though, all the same."

"Liar!" he cried: "I'm turning blue."
And this was absolutely true.
And then he tore himself in two,
As liars tend to have to do.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Paul Muldoon: Glanders

Paul Muldoon

When you happened to sprain your wrist or ankle
you made your way to the local shaman,
if "shaman" is the word for Larry Toal,
who was so at ease with himself, so tranquil,

a cloud of smoke would graze on his thatch
like the cow in the cautionary tale,
while a tether of smoke curled down his chimney
and the end of the tether was attached

to Larry's ankle or to Larry's wrist.
He would conjure up a poultice of soot and spit
and flannel-talk, how he had a soft spot

for the mud of Flanders,
how he came within that of the cure for glanders
from a Suffolkman who suddenly went west.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Generalizing the Cone

I'm working (sort of) desperately on this string theory homework that's due tomorrow; one of the problems involves d-dimensional cylinders and cones, and I just realized that I don't know whether a d-dimensional cylinder is a (d - 1)-dimensional sphere extruded along the dth dimension or a (d - 1)-dimensional hyperplane with its dth dimension curled up into a circle. Or any interpolation between these possibilities. Likewise for the cone. (I hope that's clearly worded, since I can't do an illustration.)

They really ought to call the normal cylinder the (1,1)-cylinder rather than the 2-cylinder.

Mystery Mitt II

Why would Mitt Romney -- who won the Michigan primary by promising never to let jobs leave Detroit, and will presumably do this again in 2012 -- think it's a good idea to write an NYT op-ed titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt"? I'm sure there was some manner of political calculation behind it, but the difficulty with a tone-deaf politician like Romney is that it's sometimes hard to tell precisely what he thinks he's doing. Has he realized that there's no point to his running for president again? (I wonder if he can afford to.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Underrepresented Conservatives

Yglesias pushes back against the equal-newspaper-time meme by citing the essential, rarely mentioned, control group:
The group of people who prefer newspapering aren’t going to be ideologically identical to the general population. You can see this in part in the fact that the elements of the media that are the most politically relevant are the ones with the most conservatives. If you want to see a bunch of big liberals, forget about political reporters and look at the assembled food writers or movie critics of the United States. Politics is something conservative are interested in, so you see some conservatives in the news pages, more on the op-ed pages, and then total domination on broadcast media.

Similarly, the two or three conservative professors at Amherst were in political science, history, etc. rather than music or physics.

Summers Revisited

Mildly surprised to find Stanley Fish expressing, cogently and at length, my feelings about the Larry Summers case. I guess it's time to change my mind. NYT commenter sam2 says:
Dr. Summers clearly likes being a public intellectual gadfly and thought it was part of the job description at the World Bank and Harvard. He was wrong. He understood it was not at Treasury.

So presumably he still holds that view of Treasury and would be as successful in it as he was before, especially since the job currently requires the outside the box kind of thinking at which he excels as an academic economist.

There might be something to this. Also it's a different audience he has to convince -- Blue Dogs and moderate Republicans -- and the right-wing cred Summers accrued as a result of the Harvard and World Bank affairs might be useful. Maybe he can sell govt. intervention as an ingenious way of screwing over the poor...

I suspect, though, that he's just as likely to antagonize the right.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bad Sex (4)

Bookslut notes that the new Penguin classics edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover has a striking cover picture:

Bad Sex, a Three-Volume Post

1. The British mag Literary Review does a "Bad Sex" award, "with the aim of gently dissuading authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels." Some of the shortlisted passages are amusing, though there isn't much that compares to the 2005 winner:
And he came hard in her mouth and his dick jumped around and rattled on her teeth and he blacked out and she took his dick out of her mouth and lifted herself from his face and whipped the pillow away and he gasped and glugged at the air, and he came again so hard that his dick wrenched out of her hand and a shot of it hit him straight in the eye and stung like nothing he'd ever had in there, and he yelled with the pain, but the yell could have been anything, and as she grabbed at his dick, which was leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath, she scratched his back deeply with the nails of both hands and he shot three more times, in thick stripes on her chest. Like Zorro.

2. Rod Liddle rambles about the former floridity and recent flaccidity of John Updike in the Times [of London].

3. [Update. See my review.] I've been reading Anne Enright's new collection of stories, Yesterday's Weather, which is very good, incomparably better than her novel, The Gathering. (Review to follow when I finish the book.) It is relevant to this post because of her story "The Bad Sex Weekend," which has this characteristic and beautifully poised sentence:
The sex, when it happened, an aimless battering around the nub of him, which was sadly distant and, she supposed, numb with drink.

On the New Look

I hope this isn't too disorienting. I just wanted a format that doesn't display on desktop monitors as a thin strip of text.

Friday, November 14, 2008

On Women and Bad Books

Althouse links to a rambly Independent article wondering why Dawkins, Gladwell, Hitchens and others of that breed are male. Germaine Greer -- who's at least as insufferable as the above-named -- declares that women "are more interested in understanding than explaining, in describing rather than accounting for." I don't see a mystery here. Dawkins and Hitchens work by bullying the reader or listener; they'd be incongruous -- and shrill -- if they weren't male. They have their female analogues, who just happen to be treated as wingnuts. As for Gladwell, his combination of cluelessness, humorlessness, and hero-worship is typical of the adolescent boy. The adolescent girl, meanwhile, is busy trying to sleep with college boys and fiddling with her "top friends" list on Facebook.

Back to Clerihews

There's a very nice one by Jim Cummins:

Derek Walcott
Was known as Pol Pot
To the Ladies
In Hades


The form is pretty self-explanatory. It was invented and perfected by Edmund Clerihew Bentley:

The art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about maps,
But Biography is about chaps.

What I like about Clive
Is that he is no longer alive.
There is a great deal to be said
For being dead.

W.H. Auden wrote a fair number, some better than others:

Had too much to say:
He could never quite
Leave the paper white.

When the young Kant
Was told to kiss his aunt,
He obeyed the Categorical Must
But only just.

Lord Byron
Once succumbed to a Siren:
His flesh was weak,
Hers Greek.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Fierce Urgency of Ethanol

It looks like Obama might have former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as Ag. Sec., and it's almost certain that he's going to waste a good part of whatever stimulus package there is on rescuing Detroit. The progressive left is somewhat disappointed, but this is just the natural consequence of putting a Midwestern politician in the White House. It seems that voters sensed this -- across the Upper Midwest, from Michigan to Iowa and Nebraska, he did on average 10-20 points better than Kerry or Gore. This is a massive political advantage for him -- there are lots of swing states in the area; if he delivers the pork, he can probably count on their relatively favoring him, and essentially take Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa off the table in 2012 as he did this year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hitchens: Obama is Not Great

Hitchens's Slate article about Obama's victory seesaws between banality and incoherence. Inline comments in italics (actually, they're hardly even necessary):


"Historic," yelled the very headline across the top of my morning newspaper. (Just the news, please, if you would be so kind.) Would the letters have been so big for the first female vice president? And isn't it already historic that millions of white Christians voted, win or lose, for a man with one Kenyan parent, that parent having been raised as a Muslim?

Um, no. Sarah Palin's achievement in being elected would have been a negative one -- she didn't implode enough to cost McCain the election. And yes. And the newspapers would probably have said something like that had Obama lost.

Well, as it happens, our new president has no slave ancestry, and neither branch of his parentage could have been owned by anybody, or at least not by anybody American. (Muslim-run slavery, though, is an old story in Africa as well as a horribly contemporary one.) And there were not a few elected black American representatives 40 years ago, even if mainly in Northern states.

It is well known that Kenyan immigrants were exempt from segregation. And note that "mainly." I take it he means 50 years ago, not five years after the civil rights act (or is he just being fiendishly clever?) and, um, I could count pre-civil rights southern black congressmen on my fingers even if I didn't have any.

Second, a Republican victory would have had absolutely no effect on the legal or political standing of black Americans, which is a matter of our law and our Constitution and cannot be undone by any ephemeral vote or plebiscite.

It bloody well would have had an effect on the political standing of black Americans. At the very least it would have made it extremely improbable that the Democrats would nominate another black candidate for president in the near future, for fear of losing the election again.

Nor even a diet of audacity, though can you picture anything less audacious than the gray, safety-first figures who have so far been chosen by Obama to be on his team?

Like who? As far as I can tell, Obama's appointments so far are irrelevant to policy.


I take it Hitch wanted to prove that he wasn't an Obamamaniac, but couldn't find anything useful to say by the deadline; however, this piece really exemplifies everything that's gone wrong with his commentary. He even uses "moist" (have you been reading the moist and trusting comments of our commentariat?) as a stock all-purpose intensifier, though it's become grating through endless repetition.

Someone really ought to put him to sleep.

Percolation Denied?

While Obama did much better than Gore or Kerry -- by winning the election, for instance -- it apparently remains the case that Republicans can percolate countywise across the country, i.e. traverse it from coast to coast without passing through a Democratic county. (Source.) Apparently because I don't know if there are roads that stay entirely on the red percolating path. (Otherwise one might have to drive one's SUV through the backyards of bitter gun-clingers.) However, we're just two or three counties away from having a wall of blue down the west coast.

The Congressional-district-wise map is even more tantalizing... one district in eastern Tennessee is all that stands between us and total victory. If I were the DCCC I would pour all my money into winning that seat. (I've marked it in yellow.) Note that percolating into the Gulf does not count.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dept of Odd Headlines

In the NY Post: "B.O. Analysis, Nov. 9: The Zoo Animals Have It!" Which does not mean, apparently, that zoo animals smell revolting, according to the latest chemical analysis, but that Madagascar did well at the box office.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

That Racism Theory

John Judis argues in the LA Times that race did matter in this election, just not enough to change it. A good part of the argument is based on a map that Yglesias posted a while ago, showing counties where McCain had outperformed Bush 04, which were concentrated mainly in Appalachia and bits of the Deep South. The obvious inference is that this was because these people wouldn't vote for a black man. I think this inference is problematic because there is no reliable baseline for how Obama should have performed in 2008, if he were white. Here's a graph that illustrates the problem:

The graph shows Democratic margins in a few randomly selected counties -- all red on Yglesias's map -- from 1996 to 2008. The drop in Democratic vote is surprisingly linear across this period. Now obviously these elections were different, and anecdotal evidence suggests that Obama was hurt by his race, etc. But look at the large drop from Clinton to Gore to Kerry. Either this is a time-series of Dem candidates getting progressively less appealing to the same voters -- a true Southerner, a fake Southerner, a Massachusetts liberal, and then a black guy -- or the voters in these counties are just getting more and more unlikely to vote for a Democratic candidate (demographic change? who knows). These effects are hard to untangle, of course, but I think they make it hard to quantify the notion that Democrats lost any gettable voters by nominating Obama.
Update. More data here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"What is not forbidden..."

There's a maxim in particle physics that "whatever is not forbidden is mandatory" -- i.e. that if a process does not violate a conservation law, it will take place with some nonzero probability. The attribution was traditionally to Murray Gell-Mann or to Richard Feynman, with a slight bias towards the latter. (In general, doubtful quotes are eventually attributed to Feynman.) Intriguingly, a similar phrase -- "what is not forbidden is compulsory" -- appears in one of W.H. Auden's late poems. Auden appears to have taken it from T.H. White's Arthurian novel The Once and Future King.

There are three possibilities for how it entered physics. Either Feynman or Gell-Mann: 1. came up with it independently. 2. read T.H. White. or 3. took it from later Auden. While 1. isn't impossible, I'm inclined to prefer 2. or 3. because Gell-Mann was a literary sort who took the word "quark" from Finnegans Wake. (Where it's supposed to be onomatopoeia for the aerial croaking of geese.) The question then is whether it was 2. or 3. I'm inclined to favor 2. Either way, it couldn't possibly have been Feynman.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Summers Here Again?

I must say I don't understand why Obama would want to appoint Larry Summers to a high-profile government post like Treasury secretary. Whether or not he's the most qualified person for the job, he surely isn't the only adequately qualified person (apparently Tim Geithner is being considered; I'm sure there are at least a dozen others who would do just fine) and it seems like most other economists -- really, virtually anybody else -- would be better at avoiding tactless and incendiary remarks.

Brave New Senate

Apart from the six -- maybe seven, if Al Franken is elected in spite of himself -- Democratic pickups, there will be two new senators to replace Obama and Biden. Ted Stevens will presumably be expelled fairly soon, and Ted Kennedy is doubtful to survive very much longer. Robert C. Byrd, the 91-year-old W.Va. senator, is delicately being relieved of most of his responsibilities; while I hope he runs for another term (he's certain to win), he's probably on his way out too. This adds up to a net replacement of 10-12 senators in the near future, which is quite remarkable for such a stodgy institution.

The Times wonders:
The Democratic leadership is also considering who will take the lead on the issue of national health care policy given the precarious state of Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, chairman of the health committee, who has brain cancer.

This seems like a no-brainer to me. Hillary Clinton.

Ted Stevens

The Ted Stevens story is extremely puzzling; polls had him down by a lot, but he seems to have won. It looks like turnout in Alaska was severely depressed; the consensus view is that this is because McCain conceded early so people had no reason to vote. This is weird for two reasons: 1. As the pollster in the WaPo story says, there was enough celebrity/infamy on the ballot that it seems like people should have voted anyway. Besides, there were close Congressional races, which there usually aren't. And voting in a non-swing state like Alaska is largely symbolic anyway. 2. The NY Times maps show that 40,000 fewer people voted this year than in 1996, in a spectacularly boring and non-competitive election with low turnout nationwide (did you even have to wait for Bob Dole to concede?), despite a fair bit of population growth. No one else seems to have pointed this out, but I think it rather discredits the boring election theory. (Oh, btw, the weather was fair by Alaska standards: cold and sunny.)

This leaves us with Nate Silver's other two possibilities: secret strength in the absentee ballots, and fraud. I'm inclined, somewhat against my will, toward the latter possibility.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Final Round of Electoral Politics

I'm pleased that Obama won, and more importantly that Sarah Palin will not be president in the near future. On the other hand, I'll miss the horse race. Before we step into the desert, a final dump of analysis:
  • Read Andrew Gelman's post and his regressions. To summarize: the polls were mostly spot on. (No Bradley effect.) Obama did a few points better than Kerry across the board; in many states, that was enough to push him over the 50% mark.
  • Obama won the popular vote by roughly 5%. What happens if we subtract 5% from his statewide margins? He won all the Kerry states by at least five points, and most of them by about ten; they'd still have been in his column. He won Colorado by 7% so that stays; on the other hand he narrowly loses both Virginia and Ohio, and somewhat less narrowly, Florida, North Carolina, and Indiana. He also wins New Mexico, Iowa, and Nevada. Kerry + IA + NM + CO + NV = 278, which is a win.
  • Obama won states worth 269 electoral votes by at least 9.6%. (The 9.6% is Iowa.) This is substantially bigger than his popular vote margin.
  • I had Jay Cost's swing state review in mind when I was watching the countywise returns. He did pretty well at figuring out what an Obama win would look like. His bellwethers (Obama's margin in Hampton County, VA; whether he flipped Cincinnati) were both useful early indicators that Obama was going to do well in those states.
  • Interestingly, while Obama won PA by a lot, he did pretty atrociously in the west of the state -- i.e. Pittsburgh and its suburbs. He made up for this with enormous margins in Philadelphia and with a very strong performance in the Scranton area. (Did Biden help or was it just the economy?) Compare these maps -- if you don't look at the margins it appears as if Obama did worse than Kerry or Gore.
  • Ohio, on the other hand, was an across-the-board improvement, and not a huge one. Obama did anomalously well in Cincinnati, and held McCain's margins down in the suburbs somewhat. Unlike Clinton, he was pretty weak in Appalachia.
  • In Colorado, Obama won the same counties as Kerry, Gore, and Clinton II, who all lost the state. The difference was that Obama ran 10-15 points better in the entire metro Denver area.
  • The same pattern holds elsewhere. Obama held the line -- relative to Kerry -- in the "real America," and ran up huge margins in big cities and their inner suburbs.
  • Obama won Hampshire county (where Amherst is) by 70 to 28. This is about the same as Kerry, though somewhat better than Gore.

I guess there's always the Ted Stevens saga...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Tard Rain's a-Gonna Fall

This study showing a link between autism and rainfall appears to be a classic example of the rule that if you run enough regressions you will find something that looks really weird. That said, some of their explanations seem a little less desperate than others, though I wonder if they controlled for population of computer science types / Microsoft, which seems like a more plausible explanation.

Alternatively there's this brilliant suggestion:

"Finally, there is also the possibility that precipitation itself is more directly involved," [study authors] wrote. Perhaps a chemical or chemicals in the upper atmosphere are transported to the surface through rain or snow.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Esquire has a piece about "why white supremacists support Obama." (Short answer: because he's race-conscious and didn't intermarry.) The "survey" of four white racists is actually quite misleading because three of them are primarily Jew-haters, and the fourth -- the Klansman -- is distinctly not pro-Obama. This makes sense to me. If the issues you care about are The International Zionist Conspiracy (hence capitalism), miscegenation, and Holocaust denial, the Democrats -- or better far, the Green Party -- are a more natural home for you than the Republicans.

Is Obama a black racist, as the neo-Nazis claim? Probably not, but it's hard to be sure. I basically buy the line that Jeremiah Wright's views are racist.* There's a somewhat murky question about how far Obama's acquiescence was cynical and/or immature. To the extent that it wasn't, I continue to be a little dubious of the guy.

* The article is pure wingnuttery; however, the black value code it cites is real. It was on the Trinity Church website until the Wright story broke in March, at which point they removed it.