Friday, October 06, 2006

On Alert

Captain, enemy vessels approaching fast.




The Borg?


No captain, much worse.



Evasive action.

No success Captain, their Syllabus has eliminated control of the helm.


Impossible, Captain. We have just enough power for Life Support and a couple extra Study Sessions, along with Assigned Reading Review.

That ... that's just crazy enough to work!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Thank You, Mike Gallagher

Like vultures and jackals around a corpse, the mad pack calling themselves Westboro Baptist declared that they would be protesting at the funerals of several Amish schoolgirls murdered in Pennsylvania. How anyone could be so craven and evil as to play such an event for publicity is beyond even my normally active imagination, but the bottom line is that Mike Gallagher stepped in and made a deal – if the group would promise – in writing – not to picket the funerals of these innocent girls, he would turn over an hour of his nationally-broadcast radio show to the group. The group accepted, and so far appear to have honored their word, such as it is.

I heard some of that hour this morning, and have no intention of spreading the hate and bile which the Phelps klan was pushing this morning. But I did want to thank Mister Gallagher for his action to save the families grief and anger from these monsters. I also found it interesting to see how these “Christians” have walled off everything in the Bible and the life example of Jesus Christ, except what they could spin to fit their opinion. God in a box, if you will.

The Westboro Baptist bunch basically are Old Testament types – if by that I eliminate everything in the Old Testament except threats and punishment. Not a very joyful lot, they seem. One theme which the lead spokeswoman tossed out – all I will say about her, and all you need to know to catch her base of experience is that she is a daughter of Fred Phelps, well known for condemnation of anyone not just like himself – was the separation between Jacob and Esau. She could play that, because not too many people these days have read the Bible, especially the OId Testament. They might remember something about God saying He loved Jacob and hated Esau. But the woman was wrong.

Jacob was not, to be blunt, a very nice man. He coerced his brother into selling him his birthright by refusing to let him have food until he gave over the right to the family name, even though he knew his brother was starving. Then later when it was time to claim the birthright, Jacob confirmed his dishonesty by posing as his brother in order to deceive his blind father. After getting what he wanted, Jacob ran away. Real class, eh? By the way, this is all in Genesis Chapters 25 through 27. So put away this idea that Jacob was a righteous man.

What happened, in short, was that Jacob’s crime made Esau angry and he turned from God, exemplified by marrying a woman he knew his father would dislike, a daughter of Ishmael (Genesis 28:9). Jacob, on the other hand finally turned to God – ever wonder what that wrestling in Chapter 32 was about? – and returned to face Esau and the consequences of his sin.

But contrary to what many might think, God also touched Esau, for when he met Jacob again, Esau neither attacked him nor condemned him, but ran and hugged his brother Jacob (Genesis 33:4). Through the grace of God, sin was forgiven and the brothers restored. That verse about God hating? That’s from Romans 9:13, where God warned ”Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”. Loved and hated as in past-tense, the whole book of Romans is about forgiveness and living in hope and love. Sad to think these “Christians” are ignoring amazing examples of Christ-like behavior in those very Amish they thought to torment, but it is an important lesson for the rest of us to observe.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Polls, Predictions, and Puke

In the interest of full disclosure and advance explanation of likely snarkiness on my part, I should mention that in four days I begin taking Mid-Terms in three graduate courses. The significance of this fact is that I have had much less time to work on poll analysis than I would like, and so this article will necessarily be more general than usual in thought.

It’s October in an election year, which means that while all the kiddies are picking out imaginative costumes to wear, the pollsters are going all out to find the most imaginative spin for their press releases, because this is their big chance to be – drum roll please – “newsmakers”.

If you find that notion, that polls should be considered news of themselves, more than slightly irritating, join the club. Polls are news in the same way that former Representative Foley would be a good babysitter for your boys, or Nancy Pelosi has a valid comprehension of U.S. National Security. I have spent what little free time I had during the past couple weeks reading predictions for the 2004, 2002, and 2000 elections, and frankly if I were a polling group I would be more than a little bit humble about what I claimed. Granted, most polls played CYA in the late months, making calls both ways so that they could come back later, bury the wrong guesses, shine a light on the lucky guesses and call themselves “experts”. I will claim bluntly that I am as much or more an expert as John Zogby or Larry Sabato on predicting elections, but that’s not claiming much – anyone could hope to do better than those clowns, yet they continue to get paid for shoddy work and biased claims. There was not even one truly reliable predictor of the last three elections, and the reader should be aware of this whenever considering a poll report.

The first reason most reports cannot and do not predict the outcome of an election to any degree of reliability, is the nature of the organization which releases the report. Polls, for example, are at best no more than a snapshot of the mood of the public. And polls are not all that equal, bias finding its way into most of them to varying degrees, sometimes so blatantly as to create comedy rather than veracity. Should the reader find him or herself interested in examining a poll, I will repeat here the basic caveats of poll analysis:

- All valid polls which release results to the public will also release internal data
- All valid polls will use a consistent methodology from one occasion to the next, and will report that method in their summary
- All valid polls will weight according to Census norms and known demographic political balances
- All valid polls will make archive data available for comparison to current polls

To be blunt, very few polls meet this standard. Gallup, Pew, The New York Times, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and Survey USA are the only organizations which perform to these standards (in the case of the NYT, Newsweek and NBC/WSJ, these companies sponsor polls and demand consistent standards as I described) on a regular basis. This does not mean that I agree with their stated conclusions, but rather that their transparency means that suspected bias can be backed out and the numbers examined in an unweighted or rebalanced state if so desired.

It is also in the nature of election predictors to fall into two common blunders. If a group you have never heard of suddenly claims spectacular results from its predictions, it may well not be a coincidence. Many groups which “predict” elections do nothing of the sort – rather than risk seeing their prediction blow up in their face, as Sabato and Zogby had happen in 2004, they post a number of mildly worded opinions, ranging to cover all reasonable possibilities but nothing to call unusual attention to any one position, then later on pretend that their wisdom and mathematical genius foretold the results. The other common practice is the last-minute pick; Tradesports and similar shills make a fair piece of change by promoting the “accuracy” of their positions immediately before election day – they never mention the wild variance in their mid-season numbers. To put this in perspective, the election campaign effectively begins when the general candidates are known, say by late spring. This gives us, roughly, 180 days of campaign during which time someone may make a prediction. To make a call two days before the election is like predicting the winner of a football game with half a minute to go in the fourth quarter; it’s gutless and has no value as a predictor. I will harass John Zogby for being so partisan in the 2004 election, but at least he had the guts to call his prediction in the summer. He was completely wrong and destroyed his credibility as a pollster, but at least he called his shot plainly (though it should be noted that Zogby began back-tracking from his prediction a few weeks later).

Next: Poll Integrity

Monday, October 02, 2006

God Be With The Amish, And Grant Them Solace

Six young girls are known dead in a shooting at an Amish school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. According to MSNBC, there are also three additional shooting victims, also all young girls between the ages of 6 and 12. The girls are listed in critical condition at this time.

The Amish are frequently ignored or mocked for their unconventional beliefs and practices. This makes them easy targets for thugs and monsters, because the Amish are the most peaceful of pacifists, who refuse to condemn anyone, trusting in the Providence of a merciful God and quick to forgive. Do not be deceived by the quiet manner in which these people will bear the pain of today’s abomination – the Amish treasure their children above their own lives, and having given up so much of the material world they focus keenly on their family.

God loved Abraham, says the Bible, because he trusted God enough to give up his own son if that should be required by God, though God spared Isaac. Surely God will love these people greatly, since they were not spared such grief and pain. There is no sense to this, but to depend on faith in such a time.