Friday, November 30, 2007

Just Curious

I watched the news about the Clinton campaign office hostage situation. I read one report which I can't locate now that he was due in court for a domestic violence charge (here is another news item), and his step-son said he had been drinking heavily. At first, I thought it was another batshit crazy misogynist out to kill females to ease his psychosis, but then a different story began seeping out, and now I am curious.

The guy who broke in wanted to talk to HRC about health insurance. He had been trying (or claims to have been trying) to get mental health care but couldn't pay for it. His behavior today and reports of erratic behavior in the past do point to someone who needs help. Why, of all the places he could have gone to try to make his case, did he chose her office? The Obama office was just a few doors down and the Edwards office a few blocks away, for example, and I imagine there were doctor's offices in the vicinity, maybe even a hospital.

So, why did he gravitate to HRC? Was it because he believed that she could get him help?
"I need to speak to Hillary Clinton," he said. "Something's got to change. Ordinary people need help" with their insurance.
I hope some intrepid reporter does a follow up on this.

Can't take the heat?

This is both fascinating and disturbing. Work safe, but may have strange psychological after effects.

Easter Bunny

Now I crave a hot fudge sundae.


The Mysterious Rocks of Racetrack Playa

I have seen photos of this place and phenomenon before, but never so many in one place. The first time I saw one, I was sure it was photoshopped:

The Mysterious Rocks of Racetrack Playa


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thought of the Day

Better living through denial – Ask me how!

Masked Racism

The recent WaPo (no, I won't give the attention whores a link to their revolting article) article breathlessly repeating "rumors" (lies) about Barry Obama's "ties" (no connection) to Islam is a classic case of Southern Strategy misdirection.

The reason why this meme is being pushed so hard by the Right is because it allows voters to substitute a more acceptable form of bigotry for a less palatable one. It is not acceptable in the US to say you won't vote for a black candidate. Dyed in the wool racists don't care, of course, but many "respectable" voters can't voice this prejudice, not even to themselves. Those who have some modicum of a conscience left will feel inhibited against indulging in that prejudice.

While the surface message about Barry being a Muslim is exactly that - He's one of them islamofascist guys! Just without a turban - and will appeal on a direct level to that very strong prejudice, the real connection is Muslim = black Muslim = black. It is a way of providing a substitute excuse that brings some sympathy if expressed in a way that flat out racism would not. "Oh, I know he *says* he Christian, but what about all those influences on him..." As if Barry Obama is anything other than a corn-fed, Midwest, WASP type (I mean, c'mon, he's a cousin of Dick Cheney for Christ's sake!) who just happens to have a very deep permanent tan.

Anyway, the Muslim meme is cover for the true prejudice (one that is alive and well, as Harold Ford can attest), the original sin of American identity, treating African-Americans as sub-human. Those who want to say "I won't vote for the n*****" can now say "I won't vote for the towel-head," and they will get a pass, most importantly from their own conscience.

And, no, this doesn't mean I have any sympathy for Barry on these attacks. He's been trashing Clinton on with right-wing talking points for the last month. To use the argument that is turned against HRC all the time, if he's not tough enough to take this beating and stay ahead in the polls, he's not tough enough for the general where it will be worse.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nobody Knows You're a Dog

The Zogby International poll released yesterday is causing a triumphal buzz on the neo-Naderite left because it confirms their fantasy that not only do their favorites handily top all possible Republican candidates but also Hillary Clinton is topped (and I mean that in every way possible) by those same Republicans. While I'm getting a chuckle out of their self-delusion, I feel duty bound as both a political scientist and a web application developer to nip this idiocy in the bud.

Polls, to be reliable, have to have a demonstrably accurate polling sample. By accuracy, I simply mean that the people you poll are who and what they represent themselves to be, and that their answers to the questions are "honest". This doesn't mean they are rational or commendable, but that their biases are transparent. If you are in favor of X or you dislike candidate Y, your position should be recorded as such in the poll.

The reason pure online polls are not reliable is because, on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog. Or that you claim to be a black 20-something female from a big city while you're actually a white, 40-something male from the wilds of Wyoming. Or that you possess fifteen or twenty different personas. Something I wrestle with all the time in public-facing web sites where we have to rely on the self-reporting of the registrants for background information, such as age, ethnicity, and unique identity. An ongoing challenge, for example, is how the city government can allow citizens to have stable accounts they can use to conduct business with the city yet not contain the kind of data that would allow that person to be definitively identified. SSN is out, for example. The only authentication method readily available is an email address and those are free for the taking.

I'm part of the Zogby International polling pool. Given the (non-)controls they have on it, it must be one of the most polluted, unreliable polling pools out there. You can misrepresent yourself at will, you can submit one bogus identity after another, and you can vote multiple times in the same polls if they select a large enough group. After you finish a poll, you are asked to provide names of people who should be asked to become part of the ZI pool. Now, who are you going to recommend, someone who agrees with you or someone who doesn't? Or why invite someone else when you can just invite yourself via a new email address? The ZI poll is made up of self-selected participants who do not have to pass any follow up confirmation of their unique identities. Given the online bias, the respondent pool is likely to have a higher proportion of dedicated political partisans than a truly random phone poll.

This stands in contrast to a tracking poll the AP is running jointly with Yahoo, where a pool of participants was called, screened, balanced for demographics and geography, but where their actually polling is performed online. The same people are asked the same set of questions and presents a picture over time. This is different than an opinion poll, but it does highlight the error points of the ZI style. Bottom line, they don't know who they are polling and the polls themselves are set up poorly. They are more accurate than the MSNBC "Who won the debate?" open polls that get flooded by partisans, but they cannot adequately control for bias.

I do enough Zogby polls (and the fact that I am constantly selected for polls also says something about their selection process) that I can say they are generally very sloppy. They ask a lot of political opinion questions without testing for relevant biases up front, such as I am asked who I voted for in the last presidential election, but I am not asked if I have a preferred candidate in the current election, something every good pollster knows to ask for. For a long time, I could not indicate that my religious position was "Humanist" not "Other". Questions are often worded so that only extreme positions can be selected (Are you for open-ended occupation of Iraq or for immediate withdrawal? Umm, I'm for phased withdrawal, thank you very much...).

I happened to be part of this last "poll" and it was clear to me from the first question that this was a hit job on HRC. They asked questions about what candidates were running negative campaigns, who was the candidate who represented change, and other coded questions that the Obama and Edwards campaigns have been trying to get into the memeage.

I was then given three screens of four questions. I was asked to say who I would vote for if an election match up was between Democratic candidate A and Rebuplican candidate 1, then A and 2, then A and 3, and then A and 4. The next screen had candidate B and 1,2,3,4, and finally candidate C and 1,2,3,4. However, there were four options for every question:

Democrat A/B/C
Republican 1/2/3/4
Vote for someone else
Won't vote

Hmm, OK, I am not asked who I support, and I can, without penalizing my preferred candidate, vote the third or fourth answer for a challenger to my candidate. Without having to put my cards on the table (be an "honest" participant) by reporting my bias (candidate preference overall), it is not possible to control for strategic voting - such as Obama supporters deliberately saying they would not vote if the choice was Clinton or any Republican.

The peculiar pattern of votes points to punitive voting by Democrats who don't support Clinton and are trying to present a stronger picture of disapproval than is present in the general population. The fact that no one else's numbers change, only HRC's and only down and down in a way not recorded in any other poll (compare to the Gallup poll done at the same time that shows her outpolling all Republicans by larger margins than Obama does.) is not a result of general opinion. It is a result of deliberate manipulation of the data by the participants. The Republican respondents have no need to dissemble as all Democratic candidates are almost equally dangerous to all of their candidates. They have no reason to reduce the apparent strength of any Republican in relation to any Democrat, while HRC's close challengers have a strong incentive to reinforce the meme that the other candidates are more electable in the general than she is.

The problem with liar polls, like liar loans, is that at some point you have to produce the goods - you have to cough up the votes or the money to cover the claim.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

This and That

The cat is better, though she hates me because I've been giving her medication for the last week.

The next month of politics will be stupid as all the candidates try to project genial confidence while their campaigns engage in trench warfare. It hasn't changed that we have one person running for president (Hillary Clinton), six people running against Hillary (Obama, Edwards, McCain, Guiliani, Romney, Huckabee), and three people running for VP (Biden, Dodd and Richardson). Dennis Kucinich is running for public scold and Ron Paul has village crank sewn up. I've said before and I'll say again, this campaign is for the Democrats to lose. If they damage their candidates too much in the primaries, they risk getting taken out by the right in the general. The best thing to hope for now is a Romney or Huckabee victory on the Republican side.

On the house side of things, the tile we wanted for the bathroom and kitchen has been delayed for 3-4 weeks on shipment, and the tile installer says our patterns are complex enough that it will take 3-4 weeks to install, so we won't get into the house until late January or early February. A disappointment, yes, but not wholly unexpected.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Sorry no recent posts

The kitty has been sick the last few days and needs extra cuddling.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Republican Dirty Tricks

My buddy Fergus, who is becoming quite the blog commenter, has brought an interesting below the MSM radar story to my attention. Here's the basic facts.

Someone is calling Democrats in Iowa and conducting a very weird "poll". One person who was polled, a prominent Democratic Party official and strong Edwards supporter, provides this account:
The caller asked for either me or my husband by name. First tip off. The poller said they were with Central Research. Asked the requiste who are you supporting? Who is your second choice?

Then why do you think Hillary Clinton is a weak candidate and gives 3 choices. A) Is a weak general election candidate. B)Is too dependent on lobbyist money. C) Won't bring change.

Then why do do think John Edwards is a weak candidate with 2 choices A) a weak general election candidate because his positions are too liberal B) He should be home with his wife who has cancer.

A lot of blog posts have been exchanged offering various theories as to which Democrat is behind this poll and why, generally tying themselves into knots to explain how it was the candidate they hate most who is responsible. I think all of this speculation is wrong.

One of the most complete accounts of the poll and of trying to track down where it came from can be found here at Taylor Marsh's blog. Today, Mark Blumenthal of settled in to do some analysis from a pollster's perspective. Both of them arrive at roughly the same conclusion - this is a trick by the Republicans. Taylor has tracked things back to a company owned by a former Tom Delay staffer. Mark analyzes the questions themselves and says they simply don't make sense as any kind of Democratic attack because they do not map onto any of the effective approaches/attacks any have been using. Both point out that it is hard to see how any Democrat benefits from this.

Well, back to Machiavelli 101. Who benefits? Who gains power through these acts? Only the Republicans as a group. How do they gain power? By increasing what they have obviously been doing since the last Democratic debate - trying to put unbridgeable gaps between candidates and their loyalists, sow fear, uncertainty and doubt, and try to poison any kind of unity calls after the primaries are through. Further more, it is aimed at a specific candidate and his supporters.

Look at the questions. The questions about HRC are clearly aimed at eliciting the "fear" reaction that HRC won't be a liberal party loyalist. These questions may be obnoxious, but they are not unusual. However, they also aren't topical. They should be about immigration, Iraq/Iran, trade-policy, and other recent talking points. The three in the "poll" are just too general. This alone should clue us in that this is not your average negative campaign.

The questions about Edwards, though, those are of a kind we just haven't seen. Asking Democratic activists if a candidate is "too liberal"? Gimme a break. Then the revolting question about Elizabeth Edward's cancer. First of all, who the hell is that ghoulish except the political offspring of Lee Atwater?

The unasked questions are also telling. Why nothing on Obama? Why, to play up the suspicions of him as an underhanded back-stabber, something getting quite a bit of sotto vocce play in the blogs. His campaign is becoming notorious for character smears, and now there is a rumor about Joe Trippi, who works for Edwards, actually undermining his own candidate to improve Obama's position. The absence of Obama is meant to indict him.

Now, look at what just happened recently. Edwards has thrown down a gauntlet that he won't support the party if HRC gets the nomination, with the implicit threat that he will direct his supporters to withdraw their votes, which would probably be enough to throw the election to the Republican. So, what appears on the horizon? An ugly attack going after Edwards by taking a vile pot shot at him as a human being, intimating that he is ignoring an ill family member in favor of seeking personal glory.

This attack is meant to inflame. It is meant to hit hard in the gut and to get people's defense reactions cranked up high. It is meant to be the unanswerable "Who did this to John!?!" that will fuel the emotional rage sufficient to get his supporters to sit this round out. It is meant to fracture the Democrats enough in the general in enough close states to throw the election. Edwards is not going to win the nomination, but he has a big enough base to spoil the election for whomever does. And the Republicans are tying to make sure that happens.

There should be a non-stop call across the left blogosphere for exposure of who was behind this attack and get it settled definitively. Anyone with research skills and few interns at hand (TPM, hint, hint) could have a field day with this one.

Don't get Roved again.


Thought for the Day

The next time the universe knocks on my door,

I will pretend I am not home.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

John Edwards - Loserman

John Edwards has gone from being a bit of a fake to being utterly unsupportable in the space of 24 hours.

He's made horrible campaign choices from day one, and has pandered crudely to the other white bright-idea boys of the netroots. His much vaunted union support is tepid and fractured. He didn't win his own state last time around and he is polling worse in the south than Hillary, which is his inherent claim to power - I can win the NASCAR vote.

But I am seriously beginning to believe that he has been snookered by the Obama campaign and Joe Trippi, knows he is losing, and is determined to take down the "cause" of his abysmal showing - HRC. His bitter and petty statements today about not supporting Hillary should she win the nomination shows that Edwards is, at heart, just another privileged white boy getting mad at the bitch who made him look bad. Worse, he is playing right into the far-right's hands by doing the hatchet work on the single most popular candidate the Democrats have had since, well, Bill Clinton. The guy Edwards modeled himself on the first time around. The guy he was compared to by all the pundits. The guy he was supposed to emulate in a great successful sweep of the south.

Everyone knows the answer to the "Will you support...?" question. You laugh and say of course and you put the success of the party over your own ambitions.

John Edwards sounds like no one so much as Joe Lieberman threatening to bolt the party and act as a spoiler if the ingrates should vote for Ned Lamont. Bottom line - if there is an ego out of control in the campaign, it is Edwards, not HRC. He has a laughable record in politics, he talks a good line on some policy issues, but has never proved himself capable of dealing with a recalcitrant Congress (vs. HRC, who has spent many years building relationships), and he has zero credibility in international affairs. And now he's threatening to pull his voters if HRC gets nominated.



Monday, November 12, 2007

Thought for the Day

Too many freaks, not enough circuses.


A site about cities - 19 cities of 20 million people in the 21st century:


A bit of a marketing gimmick, but not a bad one. I really like the chronology they show about how the populations fo cities has risen and fallen over the centuries.

Barry Obama's Bad Judgement

Two quotes on two recent screw-ups. First, Paul Krugman:

The great Social Security debate of 2005 was a seminal moment for American progressives. Conventional fiscal wisdom in the Beltway was that the aging population is THE big problem — when the truth is that grim long-run fiscal projections mainly reflect projected health care costs. And conventional political wisdom was that the Bush administration’s fear-mongering on the issue would work.

But a determined defense by progressives in the media, on the blogs, and in Congress beat back one spurious argument after another, while the American people made it clear that they really want a program that guarantees a basic retirement income that doesn’t depend on the Dow. And Social Security survived.

All of which makes it just incredible that Barack Obama would make obeisance to fashionable but misguided Social Security crisis-mongering a centerpiece of his campaign. It’s a bad omen; it suggests that he is still, despite all that has happened, desperately seeking approval from Beltway insiders.

Substantively, this is wrong — and the tone-deafness is hard to understand. Tim Russert doesn’t vote in Iowa.

Why, Barack, Why? - Paul Krugman

Long before Social Security's problems become problems, the country needs to deal with health insurance, domestic security against disasters (natural and man-made), environment change, regressive tax burdens, gay rights, the imploding financial markets, bankruptcy reform, and deteriorating foreign affairs. I'm sure I've left out a few dozen issues far more pressing than "solving" a problem that has a better than 50% chance of never materializing.

Krugman has it right, though I think it's a bigger problem than wanting to please inside the beltway people. It is a sign of inexperience and bad judgement as such. There are topics you don't bring up because of the damage they will do to you and to your constituents. There are things that you should not use to distinguish yourself from your competitotrs, and this is one of them. In the current political environment, you have to be a party wo/man first and foremost, or you will both weaken your party as a whole and you will get picked off. You're not in Chicago anymore, Barry. Which leads to the second quote:

Last week I noticed locals inviting people to sign up for a November 10th bus trip to Iowa. It was a puzzling idea, since the University of Illinois football team wasn't playing in Iowa yesterday (they actually played at number one ranked Ohio State, a game in which they somehow won). Someone told me it was "some kind of a political trip," so I called around to a couple of Democratic offices and found out it was a Barack Obama supporter trip to the Jefferson Jackson fundraiser in Des Moines. The busses were coming from Chicago, and I live on I-80, so they were hoping to fill up seats on the way. I probably should have jumped on board, but the price was a little steep, and truthfully I'd rather hang with my kids than a bunch of Chicago political insiders.

So when the esteemed David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register declared Obama the winner in part for a speech that "inspired the crowd like no other," it was no suprise, really. Joe Biden called it what it was when he hit the stage, saying "Hello, Iowa" and then waving at the section of Veterans Memorial Auditorium packed with the Obama supporters and shouting, "Hello, Chicago!"

Iowa Candidates Dinner - Jeff Dinelli

Now, let's compare this to the news earlier this week that Clinton's campaign staff planted two people (I'm still not clear if it was two people at one event or different people at different events) in the audience to ask a question. Actually, it doesn't compare. Putting in a person who may or may not get asked a single question that anyone else in the audience can follow-up on or ignore as desired is an ordinary way to get a specific talking point out there. The person asking is not one of the crowd, which taints the question, but the question itself needs to be pretty good, or it will sink. Obvious softballs stand out. To forestall complaints, I intensely dislike that HRC allowed this to happen (no, I don't buy that "staffers" did this without her knowledge), mostly because she doesn't need it. She is skilled enough as a speaker and legislator to get these topics into the conversation without relying on a plant.

The true comparison is with the entire fake FEMA press conference, where everyone in the room is in on the scam and the intent is to draw attention away from the elephant - in this case, Obama's inability to get Iowans to support him in the same numbers as HRC can do. It says that Obama does not trust the support he has drummed up in Iowa, so puts together some visual fakery to make it look to the cameras that Iowans have flocked to the hall to scream their love and support. Joe Biden's cheery, sarcastic shout-out exposed the scam for what it was. The people in the hall knew the fix was on, just like the FEMA staffers knew they were presenting fake news.

This also has to be placed in the context of the persistent rumors that Obama's campaign is the source of the worst smear attacks against other candidates, and his calculation to use an anti-gay gospel singer to open his appearances. In short, what is beginning to appear, despite the mountains of positive press (Click here for Kevin Drum's chart on the disproportionate positive news write ups Obama receives vs. all competitors) , is a campaign that is running out of steam and is enganged in pretty crude dirty campaigning.

Barack Obama is running to win the Democratic primaries. He is not running to be President. He is incoherent on policy, has only one vote of any significance where he varies from HRC (and even that is an assertion, not a vote), and is putting more energy into stage management than into demonstrating why he should be entrusted with the presidency. Most of all, he is basing his campaign on running against his own party. That may endear him to netroots bloviators like Markos, but it leaves long-time liberals like me cold.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Box Lunch

From one of my favorite food writers, a new web site:

Just Bento

Great recipies/assembly instructions for Bento box lunches that are fast and easy to make. Hmm, I migfht do a few of these for dinner...


Monday, November 05, 2007

Thought of the Day

Today I will gladly share my experience and advice, for there are no sweeter words than "I told you so."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Guys Playing the Hillary Card - and Losing

This is all such crap.

HRC did not play any god-damned gender card. She withstood a unrelenting attack from everyone on stage at Drexel and came out of it strongly, though not spectacularly. She then made a joke at her alma mater about being well prepared by Wellesley for competing equally in a "boy's club", which was no more than the truth. It was other people, specifically female bloggers, who first said that the spectacle of eight men all going after a single woman made for very uncomfortable dynamics.

That's true, too.

There's certainly an intellectual level on which the frontrunner is going to get pushed harder, but this was out of proportion to anything we have seen to date in either the Republican or Democratic debates. At a visceral level, well, it was eight guys trying to shove a woman around. Sorry, that's the psychological impact of that much hostility and fury from a pack of males aimed at a solitary female. They overplayed the "Everyone Hates Hillary" card, and now they are claiming victimhood because viewers, particularly female viewers, did not care for what they saw.

As it turns out, as the days go by, it is becoming apparent that Hillary's answers were A) pretty good and B) not significantly different than what Edwards or Obama have said. For anyone with some time to kill, here is an interview George Stephanopolous did with John Edwards today, in which he calmly asks Edwards to provide proof for his allegations that HRC is lying or waffling or whatever: Web clip, runs for almost an hour.

Here is what is happening in this campaign, something Kevin Drum pointed out a year ago - HRC's opponents (Dem. and Rep.) have one basic argument - Oh, look, it's icky Hillary! She's mean and ugly and shrill and she lies and she's Republican lite/the reincarnation of FDR. Run away! Run away!

But a funny thing happened on the way to the inevitable downfall of Hillary. People who hadn't paid much attention to HRC before or who had not thought her a viable candidate (Remember that I once was an Edwards supporter...) listened to what she had to say and watched how she carried herself when faced with challenges, and said "Wait a minute. The dame's good." She acts presidential at all times, even now when little Johnnie and little Barry are telling anyone who will listen how *awful* she is, and doesn't stoop to gutter tactics.

HRC comes across as sane, solid, moderate and reliable. Her domestic positions are firmly rooted on the left, and her foreign policy is unsentimental, conceding nothing to whackos but offering a clear basic policy for anyone who wants to deal. She appeals to the vast bulk of voters who are not ideological and sit in a muddled center, and are looking for a *type* of person more than for someone with specific policies.

Thus, when the guys trot out the "It's the Hillary monster!" emotional rhetoric, smearing her character and alleging skullduggery of some undefined kind (Aside - Am I the only one who is reminded of the witch scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when this kind of stuff kicks in? Didn't think so...), the viewers are increasingly going "Huh? I don't see that."

The lesson of this week is you can't play the Hillary card and win.