Saturday, September 26, 2009

Another way of looking at it would be:

that Americans are generally underwhelmed with both Democrats and Republicans. They may be considerably more dissatisfied with the GOP, but truth be told, there isn't really much for either tribe to celebrate.

Friday, September 25, 2009

How to lie with statistics

Here's how to know you're being hoodwinked when consuming polling data - look for a nonrandom pattern of trailing digits. Nate Silver has the lowdown:
One of the things I learned while exploring the statistical proprieties of the Iranian election, the results of which were probably forged, is that human beings are really bad at randomization. Tell a human to come up with a set of random numbers, and they will be surprisingly inept at trying to do so. Most humans, for instance, when asked to flip an imaginary coin and record the results, will succumb to the Gambler's Fallacy and be more likely to record a toss of 'tails' if the last couple of tosses had been heads, or vice versa. This feels right to most of us -- but it isn't. We're actually introducing patterns into what is supposed to be random noise.

Sometimes, as is the case with certain applications of Benford's Law, this characteristic can be used as a fraud-detection mechanism. If, for example, one of your less-trustworthy employees is submitting a series of receipts, and an unusually high number end with the trailing digit '7' ($27, $107, $297, etc.), there is a decent chance that he is falsifying his expenses. The IRS uses techniques like this to detect tax fraud.

Yesterday, I posed several pointed questions to David E. Johnson, the founder of Strategic Vision, LLC, an Atlanta-based PR firm which also occasionally releases political polls. One of the questions, in light of Strategic Vision LLC's repeated failure to disclose even basic details about its polling methodology, is whether the firm is in fact conducting polling at all, or rather, is creating fake but plausible-looking results in order to increase traffic and attention to its core business as a PR and literary firm.

I posed that question largely as a hypothetical yesterday. But today, I pose it much more literally. Certain statistical properties of the results reported by Strategic Vision, LLC suggest, perhaps strongly, the possibility of fraud, although they certainly do not prove it and further investigation will be required.

The specific evidence in question is as follows. I looked at all polling results reported by Strategic Vision LLC since the beginning of 2005; results from 2008 onward are available at their website; other polls were recovered through This is a lot of data -- well over 100 polls, each of which asked an average of about 15-20 questions.
Hopefully those first few paragraphs will be a sufficient teaser to get you to read the whole thing, including the charts. Bottom line is that there seems to be something fishy about the data from Strategic Vision's polls. Saying that a person or an organization is doctoring data is pretty damned serious, but from my initial reading, I'd say there is good reason for suspicion from the looks of things. At bare minimum, I would probably look at poll results from this particular organization with even more skepticism than I do as normal practice with other polling organizations' results.

You know that old adage "numbers don't lie"? The truth is a bit more complicated. Numbers themselves are inanimate so in a very narrow sense they can't lie; but the people who present the numbers can - and sometimes do - lie.


With regard to the blog, a change in location (thanks to some cyberstalking weirdo), name, and traffic flow have led up to an opportunity to think about my focus here. I've been a bit busier as of late, so my posts are becoming a bit more sporadic. When I do post, I'm finding myself not just wanting to comment on the latest outrage, but rather comment at different level. For better or for worse I am a voice (certainly not the only voice, and thankfully not the most prominent) on the radical left. I find myself wanting to make more explicit a distinction between radicalism and extremism - the latter of which I find highly toxic (I've mentioned the paranoid style of American politics before), and a bit too prominent in contemporary discourse for my comfort. I am deeply concerned with the devolution in civil discourse that we've been witness to in recent years, and especially in recent months. You'll probably see more efforts to highlight that particular concern, noting wherever possible what I believe are some of the root causes.

Since I'm a bit of a pop culture junkie, I've been indulging in sharing some of that with you in recent weeks and months and will continue to do so much more often. I happen to find much in contemporary pop culture that is helpful in understanding the American Zeitgeist. A simple cartoon such as Venture Bros. can, for example, is a rather stunning commentary on the state of American society and its concerns and offers a contrast to the "anything is possible" mindset of the middle decades of the 20th century. I started an essay on that particular cartoon, and hope to have the finishing touches completed sometime in the next few weeks.

I've been advocating health care reform quite often in recent weeks - not so much due to some affinity with the Obama regime or the Democrats, but rather simply because the status quo is so bad that even the rather ideologically stunted efforts by the Pope of Hope and his minions would serve as a major improvement (and might within a few years bring our quality of life indexes up to par with those of some of the more successful post-Soviet-era eastern and central European nations, as opposed to being barely better off than most third-world nations).

I really haven't had much time to focus on American hegemony, but will from time to time use this space as a voice against war and against economic exploitation. If it weren't already obvious to many who characterize themselves as "left or left-leaning" it should be now: neither of the two major parties is willing or able to break with the status quo: occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq; threatened invasions and occupations elsewhere around the globe; a failure to abandon the "free trade" agreements that have starved and displaced millions throughout the Americas and across the globe.

Oh, and somewhere the should be some room to discuss baseball. Life can't be all bleak.

Ex Manson-follower Susan Atkins dies in prison

A friend of mine clued me in to the news that Susan Atkins (aka. Sadie Mae Glutz during her Manson Family days) died in prison late Thursday night. I think his commentary was something along the line of "I hope God shows more mercy to her than she showed to her victims", which I think seems to be about as appropriate a response as any. As I mentioned recently as an aside to former Family member Squeaky Fromme's recent release from prison, sadly there are still those who glorify the Manson Family and their murders.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Yay, downtime

I'm not seeing much newsworthy at the moment. The economy is still in the crapper, the usual folks who are into sniping at one another are sniping at one another, the conspiracy theorists are still spinning their conspiracies. Just business as usual these days. Expect some sort of commentary at some point when I get back home. The meeting itself was relatively uneventful, which was as I had hoped. It was even mildly productive, so by my standards, I'll call it a success.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Heading out

I don't know if I'll have wireless access while out of town on business. If I do, I might check in. Otherwise, see whoever might visit here Friday.

Monday, September 21, 2009

True, not exactly a blazing insight, but needs to be said

Dave Matthews sez:

CNN: President Carter said he thinks that a lot of the animosity directed toward President Obama is race related.

Dave Matthews: Of course it is! I found there's a fairly blatant racism in America that's already there, and I don't think I noticed it when I lived here as a kid. But when I went back to South Africa, and then it's sort of thrust in your face, and then came back here -- I just see it everywhere. There's a good population of people in this country that are terrified of the president only because he's black, even if they don't say it. And I think a lot of them, behind closed doors, do say it.

Social psychologists such as James Jones have been saying it for decades, and before him activists and social critics from various angles. In the case of Matthews, his perspective is shaped from growing up in Apartheid-era South Africa. Something insidious to relatively well-off white Americans may seem considerably more often to someone outside of that particular bubble (including, the occasional well-off rock star).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Here's some interesting Oklahoma history

via Jim Branum:
“It was not easy to persuade our poor white and black brother and sisters to rise up. We told them that rising up, standing up, whatever the consequences, would inspire future generations. Our courage, our bravery would be remembered and copied. That has been the Indian way for centuries, since the invasions. Fight and tell the story so that those who come after or their descendants will rise up once again. It may take a thousand years, but that is how we continue and eventually prevail.” – An Oklahoma Seminole Woman speaking about her remembrances of The Green Corn Rebellion, a failed revolution in Oklahoma in which the poor Indians, Blacks and Whites united in fighting against the oppression of the rural poor and against the draft of WWI

Welcome back Party of 1

David Cole's blog, Party of 1 is back. I thought it was a high quality blog back before Dr. Cole put it on hiatus, and it looks like it's every bit as good as it was previously. And it looks like he's asking questions that need to be asked, such as:
There’s a new administration in Washington — but the USA PATRIOT Act is still on the books, and some provisions are up for renewal. Gentle reader, will you be watching this as closely as you were before January 20, 2009?
Or as I am fond of asking, so where's the change? The Patriot Act should have been one of the first pieces of nefarious legislation to be rescinded the moment Obama took that oath of office. And yet, there it is, with nary a hint as to when we might see the Patriot Act swept into the dustbin of history. How about it Dems? We know that movement conservatives and their party, the GOP, fetishize raw power - which is what the Patriot Act was all about. So why the silence, Dems? What about the progressive activists? Just going to give the Pope of Hope and the party's Congressional leaders a free pass? Where's the change?

Coburn, have you no decency sir?

Seriously, that "all pornography is homosexual pornography" statement is so wrong on so many levels as to be barely worth mention were it not for the contingent of dead-enders who seem likely to believe such statements (and who ironically probably consume more pornographic materials than any other demographic). There are forms of pornography that I think are harmful, but those are usually those that feature the violent and degrading treatment of victims - which has been linked causally to increases in aggressive behavior in lab experimentation, and which can be linked with a higher incidence of sexual assaults perpetrated by males against females in survey and interview studies (admittedly it's been a few years, but it would be useful to look up the research of Neil Malamuth for a more thorough discussion of the available data).