Friday, November 09, 2012

An Honest Question Deserves An Honest Counter-Question

Who can blame me for not reading this?  Still, I was surprised to see two questions at the end that left me more than a bit flummoxed.
1.  Where a scientific point is discussed, what makes their argument correct and mine not?

2.  What demonstrates a closed mind and how could that possibly be mine and not theirs (and specifically, Geoffrey's)?
In regards the latter, I have no idea what a closed or open mind are.  According to a search of my own rather, er, extensive writings,  I have never used it in regards scientific matters (where I can't imagine the phrase meaning much of anything).  I have used it to describe my own agnostic attitude toward things that go bump in the night.  Since I don't consider myself particularly "open" or "closed" minded because I tend to understand having "an open mind" referring to a willingness to be convinced one way or another about something about which one either knows little or about which there exists no (as yet) testable, falsifiable formulation, I guess I'm just at a loss.  Does Art have a "closed mind" where mine is "open"?  I honestly have no idea.  Have I ever described him as such, in a detrimental way?  I can't imagine why I would because calling someone "closed minded" is about as meaningful as calling someone a hypocrite.  Aren't all of us closed minded about some things?

As to the first, a simple question: I've talked science quite a bit.  Since I was studying philosophy of science, back when Bill Clinton ruled the land and Newt was still looking for his third trophy wife, I would like to think I know a little bit about it.  So, I guess I'll ask Art a counter-question.  I have no idea if he'll answer it, but he should know it's as sincere as everything else I've ever written.  How do you, Art, understand science, what it does, how it works, and how it serves those who use it?

You answer that question, and then, maybe, we can start moving toward an answer.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Weeping For The Lost Soul Of America

Yesterday, I said that the election was, by and large, a status quo election.  I did note the expansion of marriage equality in three more states (and should mention that Minnesota voted down measures to deny marriage equality and create barriers for voting).  Weed use has been decriminalized in two more states.  Several prominent politicians elected on Tuesday will be significantly further to the left than the average.  So, while our overall status quo remains, there are now signs that status is not quite what it was.

Which, well - isn't that what elections are for?  Even status quo elections?

Anyway, I was hoping to find some evidence of folks on the right whose worlds were crumbling beneath them.  I found some.  Eric Dondero subtitles his post "Time to tell any Democrats you know to fuck off and die."
I've soured on electoral politics given what happened last night. I believe now the best course of action is outright revolt. What do I mean by that?
Well, to each his own. Some may choose to push secession in their state legislatures. Others may choose to leave the U.S. for good (Costa Rica, Switzerland, Italy, Argentina, Hong Kong, Israel). Still others may want to personally separate themselves from the United States here in North America while still living under communist rule' the Glenn Beck, grab your guns, food storage, build bunkers, survivalist route. I heartily endorse all these efforts.
Some folks don't take political loss well at all.
 Starting early this morning, I am going to un-friend every single individual on Facebook who voted for Obama, or I even suspect may have Democrat leanings. I will do the same in person. All family and friends, even close family and friends, who I know to be Democrats are hereby dead to me. I vow never to speak to them again for the rest of my life, or have any communications with them. They are in short, the enemies of liberty. They deserve nothing less than hatred and utter contempt
I strongly urge all other libertarians to do the same. Are you married to someone who voted for Obama, have a girlfriend who voted 'O'. Divorce them. Break up with them without haste. Vow not to attend family functions, Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas for example, if there will be any family members in attendance who are Democrats.Do you work for someone who voted for Obama? Quit your job. Co-workers who voted for Obama. Simply don't talk to them in the workplace, unless your boss instructs you too for work-related only purposes. Have clients who voted Democrat? Call them up this morning and tell them to take their business elsewhere's.Have a neighbor who votes for Obama? You could take a crap on their lawn. Then again, probably not a good idea since it would be technically illegal to do this. But you could have your dog take care of business. Not your fault if he just happens to choose that particular spot.And start your boycott of your Democrat friends and family today. Like this morning. First thing you can do, very easy, is to un-friend all Democrats from your Facebook account.
Had Romney won, I'm trying to imagine any left-wing bloggers advising people to become anti-social out of spite.

John Hinderaker bemoans the reality that is America.
But there is a much more important proposition that, I think, was proved false last night: that America is a center-right country. This belief is one that we conservatives have cherished for a long time, but as of today, I think we have to admit that it is false. America is a deeply divided country with a center-left plurality.
Actually, that's an astute observation.  Then, alas, Hinderaker goes off the rails on the crazy train.
 Put bluntly, the takers outnumber the makers. The polls in this election cycle diverged in a number of ways, but in one respect they were remarkably consistent: every poll I saw, including those that forecast an Obama victory, found that most people believed Mitt Romney would do a better job than Barack Obama on the economy. So with the economy the dominant issue in the campaign, why did that consensus not assure a Romney victory? Because a great many people live outside the real, competitive economy. Over 100 million receive means tested benefits from the federal government, many more from the states. And, of course, a great many more are public employees. To many millions of Americans, the economy is mostly an abstraction.
Then there is the fact that relatively few Americans actually pay for the government they consume. To a greater extent than any other developed nation, we rely on upper-income people to finance our federal government. When that is combined with the fact that around 40% of our federal spending isn’t paid for at all–it is borrowed–it is small wonder that many self-interested voters are happy to vote themselves more government. Mitt Romney proclaimed that Barack Obama was the candidate of “free stuff,” and voters took him at his word
"The takers outnumber the makers". . . .  From a guy for whom a significant income is what is generously referred to as "wingnut welfare" - folks on the right paying other folks on the right to say stuff folks on the right want to hear; stuff that is, by and large as fanciful as American Psycho without Bret Easton Ellis's sense of whimsy.

One final example, this time from The American Spectator, to American journalism what Gigli was to American cinema, and writer Robert Stacy McCain.
[I]t's been a long time since any intelligent person believed anything a Democrat said. The cretins and dimwits have become an effective governing majority, and the question for conservatives at this point is perhaps not, "What does it mean?" but rather, "Why should we bother ourselves resisting it any longer?"
Alas, as always, the duty of the Right is to manfully endure, to survive the defeat and stubbornly oppose the vaunting foe, and so this brutal shock, this electoral catastrophe, must be absorbed and digested. At some point next week or next month or next year, then, we shall recover our morale and plot some new stratagem for the future. In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday's debacle, however, it is difficult to see any glimmer of light amid the encroaching gloom. Surely, there are many Americans who now sympathize with that New York infantryman who, in the bleak winter of 1862, when the Union's Army of the Potomac was under the incompetent command of Gen. Ambrose Burnside, wrote home in forlorn complaint: "Mother, do not wonder that my loyalty is growing weak.… I am sick and tired of the disaster and the fools that bring disaster upon us."
I don't think Eric Sevareid's reputation is in danger.
What is left to hope for? That the American people will soon regret their choice? That another four years of economic stagnation and escalating debt will cure them of their insane appetite for charismatic liberals? If four years of endless failure have not rid them of this madness, the disease may well be terminal. Perhaps others will still see some cause for hope, and in another few weeks my friends may persuade me to see it, too. But today I will hear no such talk, and I doubt I'll be in a better mood tomorrow. At the moment, I am convinced America is doomed beyond all hope of redemption, and any talk of the future fills me with dread and horror. 
Wow.  Dude, pot's legal out west now.  Go enjoy some.  Lighten up a bit.

Let me confess something.  The morning after the 2004 election, Lisa and I were chatting on the cell phone (I was an OTR driver at the time, somewhere, I think, in Minnesota).  She asked me what I thought.  I remember, very distinctly, saying, "Well, maybe things have to get worse before people realize their mistakes."  Two years later, W's poll numbers sunk to less than 40% approval, where they sat for two years; later that same year of 2006, the Democrats cleaned the Republican's clocks.  While I do not have documentary evidence to prove the conversation accurate, I rest easy in the reality that I was correct.  Because "worse" things did indeed get, and those candidates who most remind most voters just how bad "worse" can be lost.

Does 2012 mean we are "no longer" a conservative nation?  I don't think we've been either very conservative or very liberal for a very long time.  Culturally and socially we trend schizophrenic.  The gentle spread of marriage equality does warm my heart, but it hardly means much more than folks recognize discrimination and wish to end it.  The election of more progressives, and more prominent progressives, to positions of power should gently nudge the Democratic Party in the direction of being, yet again, almost as liberal as it was when Lyndon Johnson ran the show, and folks like Frank Church and George McGovern stalked the US Senate.

I'd feel bad for these folks, and others like them but, honestly, I find their ennui in the face of electoral defeat hilarious.  My 15 year old doesn't do drama this well.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Not Magic Or Miracles (Strong Language Alert)

Fucking magnets, how do they work? And I don't want to talk to a scientist, ya'll motherfuckers lying and getting me pissed. - "Miracles", Insane Clown Posse 
I got thinking of this ridiculous bit from rap group Insane Clown Posse when I read Jonah Goldberg's foot-stomping tantrum that Nate Silver's math was right.
Now, I have no idea whether Silver’s model is the psephological Rosetta Stone some hope — or fear — it to be. And no one else does either.
The truth is that any statistician can build a model. They do it all the time. They make assumptions about the electorate, assign weights to polls and economic indicators, etc., and then they wait for the sausage to come out. No doubt some models are better than others, and some models are simply better for a while and then regress to the mean. But ultimately, the numbers are dependent on the values you place in them. As the computer programmers like to say, garbage in, garbage out.
I’m not saying Silver’s just lucky or shoveling garbage. He’s a serious numbers guy. But so are the folks at the University of Colorado’s political-science department, whose own model is based on economic indicators. Its October 4 findings predicted Romney would win, as did many other models.
They couldn’t all be right.
What interests me is the way people talk about math as if it were divinely prophetic. They seem to subscribe to a religion that simply apes the terminology of science. To listen to many of Silver’s defenders, questioning his methodology is akin to rejecting evolution or the laws of thermodynamics, as if only his model is sanctified by the god Reason.
The combination of stupidity and ignorance just in this snippet is breathtaking.  That Goldberg tries - and fails miserably - to sound insightful and intelligent only makes the whole thing worse.

Ironically, I got in to a bit of a kerfuffle in some comments elsewhere yesterday.  And it concerned exactly these issues.  It is one thing to recognize the usefulness of the scientific method, when applied properly and offered publicly for critique and testing.  It is another thing altogether, however, to act as if we who understand what science is and how it works are somehow more in tune with "reality" than others.

Now, Goldberg is most definitely wrong when he says that Silver's method is some abstruse thing that no one but he understands.  I've seen what Silver does, and his model makes an immense amount of sense.  Goldberg's claim that "they can't all be right" is true enough; that's why they're tested.  So, the model from the University of Colorado cited by Goldberg predicting a Romney victory?

That would be wrong.

How that little bit of reality embedded within the effluvium of his column escaped Jonah's gaze is beyond me.

Silver isn't doing alchemy.  He isn't even doing advanced statistical modeling; trust me, there are statistical models that are extremely complex.  Silver's just isn't one of them.  His model seems to be sound because . . . it continues to work well in the way it is supposed to work.

And that, friends and neighbors, is all science does.

Goldberg's soliloquy on the human spirit, through which he stumbles for an exit, is what most people would call a non sequitur.
But I like to think that people are different, more open to reason, and that the soul — particularly when multiplied into the complexity of a society — is not so easily number-crunched. Obviously this is a romantic view out of step with the times. Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, lamented long ago that the “age of chivalry is gone,” replaced by “that of sophisters, economists and calculators.”
Still, isn’t it possible that the passionate defense Silver arouses from some people on the left has just a bit more to do with the comfort he dispenses than with the sophistication of his analysis? And isn’t it also possible that some of the conservatives screaming bloody murder about how his model has to be rigged are paying homage to the same cult of the numbers?
To be honest, I'm not even sure how this is related to Silver's statistical model.  Or anything else in the world, for that matter.  I would like to believe that people could fly; as one scientist I know said, "Anything is possible, even Santa Claus."  Being possible, of course, doesn't mean either that it is actual or that it is open to scientific investigation.  All Nate Silver did was take a whole lot of polls, carefully weigh them so that internal bias wouldn't multiply, and make predictions.  Which is what scientists do.  That this seems beyond Jonah Goldberg's ability to accept, well, doesn't that tell us something about the man? 

Did Something Happen Yesterday?

It's early here on the prairie.  I know Joe Walsh will be returning to Illinois sadder but certainly not wiser.  Tammy Duckworth will roll onto the House floor in January and the rest of us should walk a little straighter, perhaps.  Down in Florida, Allen West gets yet another less than honorable discharge.  Up in Wisconsin, our badgerly friends did us all proud, electing Tammy Baldwin to the United States Senate.  Out in Massachusetts, Sen. Scott Brown might have a gig doing NBA sportscasting offered because, well, he needs a job now.  Elizabeth Warren managed to snap some folks out of their McDreamy; I don't think it helped that Brown's Cosmo photo shoot had him using only one hand to cover up his privates.

Pot is legal in Washington and Colorado.  Not medical marijuana; Cannabis sativa, in one of its useful forms is being decriminalized from west coast to east.  I do so hope the Department of Justice finds better things to do than go after people who are doing what their state laws allow.

Gay marriage was a big winner.  It won in Maryland.  The President who came out in support of it won.  We have our first openly gay United States Senator (Larry Craig wasn't very open, just wide-stanced).

For all that, the government we elected doesn't look a whole lot different from the government we've had the past two years.  Which means not a whole lot will get done; House Republicans will continue to refuse to do anything with President Obama then turn around and blame him for being obstructionist.  If Harry Reid is smart, he'll do away with supermajorities to get legislation up for a vote.  He should probably do away with the use of Senatorial holds, too, so that people nominated by the President can be confirmed or not.

For all the talk about "throwing the bums out" - and when have we ever really done that? - we managed to stay remarkably the same, overall.  This was, in many ways, a status quo election.  I don't expect great things from a second Obama term, but I do expect fewer bad things than would have emerged from a Romney Administration.  As I was told over and over again, that's called realism.

Yet, President Obama did so some really good stuff.  Signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act.  Repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell.  He stopped defending DOMA in the courts.  The Affordable Care Act has already provided health insurance for millions of Americans who didn't have it, or even have access to it.  These are things most folks should be able to concede are worthy of celebrating.  And, obviously, worthy of a second term.

So, some important, incremental changes while the larger picture looks the same as it has for the previous four years.  I do think Charlie Pierce's encomium rings true on several levels, even while I think that, while another battle is won, the longer war in which we make America look like the place we want it to be goes on.  That, I suppose, is to be expected.  It is also a good thing.  We shouldn't get so comfortable in our national skin we forget that being America is, as Pres. Obama reminds us, hard work, a project that is on-going.

At the end of  a very long day, and even longer, more tiring election season, it's nice to see that we continue to believe it's better to work together and argue together and disagree together than it is to turn our backs on our common life and struggle for the main chance.  There's enough of that already.  That we re-elected our first African-American as President, that's no small achievement in a land where our collective demon, racism, still keeps its claws deep.  It is something we should celebrate about ourselves, regardless of ideology or party.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A New Prediction

Back on October 24, I said that Pres. Obama would carry every state he carried in 2008 except North Carolina.  I would like to change that.  He will carry every state he carried in 2008 except North Carolina and Indiana.  And the one Electoral Vote Obama won from the Nebraska Congressional District he carried?  Nope, that's gone, too.  Which puts Obama's Electoral College Vote total at . . .


I still think the popular vote spread will be no more than 4%, although no less than 2%.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Some Rhapsodic Waxing

Soundtrack for this post.  The opening isn't as punchy as I'd like, but maybe the Brits don't like punchy common folk.
I know the poo-flinging won't stop after the votes are counted tomorrow.  All things considered, the Republicans have managed to cover all their bases: A Romney win, and there's dancing in the Board Rooms.  An Obama win, and the election was stolen by Hurricane Sandy and that RINO (a fitting name, BTW) Chris Christie.  In Florida, the Republican Administration seems hellbent on making sure no one votes.  They had some help over the weekend with a plucky volunteer creating a bomb scare.  The Ohio Secretary of State is stamping his foot and holding his breath until he turns blue because some people want to vote even after he told them they couldn't.  That there's a partisan lawsuit that is trying to put him in time-out demonstrates one of the differences between the two parties.  One wants as many people as possible to get to the polls, to exercise their RIGHT TO VOTE.  The other just wants their supporters.  I gotta wonder about the confidence they have in their candidates; if high voter turn out is bad for them, why do they support their candidates?

For now, though, I want to spend a moment thinking about how marvelous it is to vote.  Whether you live in Caribou, ME, or Hattiesburg, MS, or Orland Park, IL, or The People's Republic of San Francisco, CA - these national elections remind us that we are all American.  For all our differences, great and small, geographic, biographic, whatever.  It's pretty awesome, really.

Does the outcome please everyone?  Obviously not.  It never does and it never will.  It wasn't designed to do that.  There will be people having a sad on Wednesday.  There will be joy in Mudville at last.  Some folks who had a job will be looking for a new place to live.  Others, who get hired, will be scrambling to find a place to stay in state capitals and the District of Columbia.  Here in IL, we even elect judges (what a stupid idea) and  our county sheriffs and county coroners.  Now, tell me: Does it really make a difference if the person who determines whether a death was natural, accidental, suicide, or homicide is a Republican or Democrat?  The good folks who designed our system seem to think so.  Me, I'm voting for the Green Candidate for Kane County Coroner, because I'd be interested to know how such would operate in that office.

The next two days are a celebration of We The People, continuing to work on that whole More Perfect Union thingy.  That's a big deal.  A really big deal.  Tomorrow morning, when I walk in the voting booth, a not insubstantial part of me will be glowing with a kind of patriotic fervor.  Little old me gets the chance to have my say, to make my wishes known, to have a voice in who makes the decisions and laws in Kane County, across Illinois, and even in Washington.  Heady stuff, that.

No matter who wins the various races, Wednesday morning I'll feel good (not everyone will; trust me, an Obama re-election will create a poo-flinging extravaganza unlike anything we've seen before) because, even with the flaws in the system, and the more than occasional crazy person faking a bomb scare and state officials getting in the way of people exercising their RIGHT TO VOTE, the outcome will be the result of us common folk being as murky or clear as we can be.

That, friends and neighbors, is a huge thing.

Virtual Tin Cup

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