Monthly Archives: October 2008

Quitting Time Booster Shot

Filing a missive from a meeting that will never end. Trying to do this before the battery power on the ol’ laptop dies (or at least several people around me do):

– Is it impolite to start a sentence with, “With all do respect to the pointless douchemook on the end…” I’ve found myself needing to curtail that urge several times at this meeting I’m in.

– I’m sitting across from a guy who looks like John Malkovich as“Cyrus the Virus” in Con Air. I don’t have a riff on that, but it is creeping me out.

– I’m really concerned about thatNestle’s Crunch Ice Cream Bar I just ateat this meeting. Maybe they don’t want me back next year…

Apparently I’m not the only one having fun at a convention. I’d love to see this conversation.

Nice idea, but really?If this thing actually makes, I’m calling for the “Gordon Lightfoot Memorial Plaza.” If you haven’t listened to “Sundown” in a while, you’re really missing out.

– From the“I somehow doubt this actually explains this” department: Also, can we get a moratorium on dumb-ass names for weird talk shows? Adding a “-y” to a truncated version of your name doesn’t really make you more of a chum. It makes you sound mentally imbalanced and stupid. If you need more proof, enjoy this classy duo.

I’m speechless… and that was before I saw the photo…

– And finally, while I’m at a media convention, apparentlynot everyone is playing nice with the student media folk. And here’sthe kids’ own take on it. Fight on, brothers and sisters.

OK, back to vaguely paying attention to a really bad meeting. Thanks for letting me share your air.


All They Have

Via TPM, this is it. They’re gonna run on the fact that this is a dude you just don’t like. You may not know why you don’t like him, it may be because he’s a Muslim, or a Christian, or a black seperatist, or not “black enough,” or he’s friends with rappers, or he wants to fuck Scarlett Johanssen, or he’s too popular, or too many people hate him, or he’s really a robot operated from within by a tiny cat creature from the planet Zyrgon. Whatever, you don’t like him. That’s the essence of their campaign:

But with the weeklong string of attacks uncorked by the Arizona senator and his people during Obama’s trip abroad and in its aftermath—some brutal, some mocking, but all personal and focused on Obama’s character—we now have an inkling of just how deep in the mud McCain and his people are willing to wallow in order to win in November: right up to their Republican eyeballs.

It really is the apotheosis of the Republican electoral playbook. Hell, even four years ago, with the “Kerry looks French” crap, it wasn’t this bad. They did in fact make an argument (a bullshit one, but still) that was about what Kerry did or failed to do. You know things have gotten out of hand when20fucking04 looks like a triumph of issue-based campaigning, but if this keeps up (which it will, because they’re actually using the argument “Obama sucks because too many people like him,” see Scout’s vid post below) we will look upon the second Bush campaign as a triumph of integrity and issue-based politicking, and that quite honestly SCARES THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS OUT OF ME.

To remedy the “you make kitty scared” aspect of this post, here’s a happy Obama photo:


Friday Night Galactica Vid

Yoo hoo, Floooooorryyy! Your boyfriend has a new job!

AsMetaquotes puts it:



Today’s Dose of Wicked Cool Stuff

Oldest Hebrew text found.

I studied archaeology in college for a while, planned to double-major, before a bone analysis class convinced me I wasn’t a scientist, that I didn’t think like that.


Wanted: Dead or Alive

I’m filing this missive from the road, where I’m at a national college media convention. I had a conversation with a friend of mine who asked how things were going. I answered almost without thinking, “I never end up sleeping at these things. I eat too much, I drink too much, I laugh too much, I see people I never see and I love every minute of it.” It’s a weird deal when it took me an hour to walk about 30 feet from the elevators to the main convention floor because I kept seeing people who wanted to talk. I spend time with people who are Red Staters and Blue Staters. I spend time with people who are 70 years old, have been in the business of advising for 40 years and still want to know what I think about something or ask if I’ll talk to their students. I learn from kids who are 19 years old and can tell me that a Flip isn’t a dance, but a“frickin’ sweet” camera that allows them to “jack into YouTube and shit.” I’m amazed by it all.

I usually end up tired on the last day, dying to go home, simply because the adrenaline has worn off and all of my friends have gone home by that point. I crash out the next week, die of some miserable cold/flu/death spray thing and limp along until Thanksgiving break. It’s totally worth it.

A friend of mine lost his mother just before the convention. (Prior to another one of these, his dad died.) He came anyway. We spent all of last night together at a fried chicken restaurant where we ate for about three hours, told stories of the time I tried to go drink-for-drink with him (him- 6-foot-7, 420; me- 5-foot-9, 165) and laughed until we cried. He told me about his son’s experiences with martial arts and I told him about The Midget and her love of Elmo. We drove back to the hotel with about a dozen of his students who kept randomly breaking into song, screaming out an off-key version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” We’re like his family and I guess that’s how I feel when I’m at one of these things.

For all the talk of “dying” media, you’ve got a boatload of kids out here, all trying to learn how to do what they do better. They embrace the Internet and video and convergence, but the biggest crowd is always around the paper-exchange table. They gather as many copies of other dead-tree versions as they can carry and then squat near a post in the lobby with several other folks and look for ideas, seek stories and compare their work to others. They go home energized, excitedly spurring on those students who stayed behind to put out the paper. They remind those of us who love the business why we still have a future.

I guess in many ways, I hope that everyone, regardless of what they do or where they do it, can have an experience like this. A special place that allows us to feel like we are among our people is so important to that sense of self we all strive for.

The convention is home to me for a few days. What I do here stays with me for a lifetime.

Joe the Loudmouth Pumpkinhead


October Surprise

Maybe it’s fitting, no pun intended, that this election is in some ways a referendum on Joe the Plumber more than anything else. We all know the allegations of “socialist” (along with other Rovian smears) are just so much more tripe for the grinder, particularly in light of the financial bailout, although anyone with even a smidgen of intellect is well aware that the United States is hardly an unfettered “free market” (as if we would even WANT such a thing.)

So, Joe, to mix metaphors, has decided to milk his fifteen minutes for all he can mine from it…not being all that choosy, he’ll talk, write, or sing for both his dinner and as much dessert as the buying public will spring for. His is the American Idol meets Powerball Jackpot meets Pie in the Sky Dream…sad to say, plenty of people seem to think this is how you achieve “success.”

It’s fitting, apt, and appropriate that Joe and Sarah have hit the trail together–they’re made for each other, each having been plucked from relative obscurity (ok, Joe more than the Wasilla Wonder), both displaying a sneering contempt for anything demanding intellectual rigor (like, say, the economy and/or foreign relations), and each ddemonstrating a stunning mix of ego and arrogance. They claim a common touch, yet they reveal an expectation of privilege that’s easily the equal of the worst blue blooded snobs.

Kind of, (or, as Palin might say, kinda) like a certain Texas governor, who managed to combine the worst elements of blue blooded snobbery and redneck anti-intellecshualism into a perfect storm of executive ineptitude.

Now, Joe ‘n Sarah have managed, at least thus far, to emerge as big winners in their respective games of lotto…and gee, every once in a while I’ll plunk down a dollar and grab a quick pik or whatever they call it. But when I buy my ticket, I’m really not expecting to actually win any more than I’m expecting to get struck by lightning–multiple times–on the way home.

Likewise, most Americans can’t count on lotto, winning contests, or becoming a media darling: contrary to Governor Palin and Joe, we actually DO live in the real world. I’m lucky enough to have a decent job, while my investment “portfolio” has a grand total of a single asset–my house (full disclosure: it cost less than Governor Palin’s wardrobe upgrade.) Unlike Joe, I don’t intend to go on the lecture, country music, or book circuit anytime soon.

And, unlike Joe, I intend to vote for a candidate who, if we’re fortunate, will implement policies that benefit those of us who live here in the real world.

Poll: Obama-McCain in virtual tie in Louisiana


AWWL-TV poll shows a dead heat in Louisiana:


exclusive new WWL-TV statewide poll shows the contest for president may
be closer than many had predicted among Louisiana voters.

In the
telephone survey of 500 registered voters, conducted by pollster Ed
Renwick, Republican Senator John McCain earns 43 percent of the vote,
while Democrat Senator Barack Obama receives 40 percent. Renwick said
that amounts to a statistical tie, since the poll has a margin of error
of plus or minus 4.5 points.

“It’s closer than I thought it would be,” said Renwick, adding that the
higher the turnout, the worse it might be for McCain.

“culture of substance abuse and promiscuity”

Sofederal investigators found employees of the Minerals Management Service of the Interior Department were engaging in all kinds of hanky panky.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Government officials handling billions of dollars
in oil royalties improperly engaged in sex with employees of energy
companies they were dealing with and received numerous gifts from them,
federal investigators said Wednesday.

The alleged transgressions
involve 13 former and current Interior Department employees in Denver
and Washington. Their alleged improprieties include rigging contracts,
working part-time as private oil consultants, and having sexual
relationships with — and accepting golf and ski trips and dinners from
— oil company employees, according to three reports released Wednesday
by the Interior Department’s inspector general.

investigations reveal a “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” by
a small group of individuals “wholly lacking in acceptance of or
adherence to government ethical standards,” wrote Inspector General
Earl E. Devaney. Devaney’s office spent more than two years and $5.3
million on the investigations.


My super secret sources tell me suspicions first arose when employees flaunted what they were doing at work on the MMS website:


But investigations began in earnest after it was discovered that employees produced a video which explored the possibilities of selling royalties from alternative energy sources. The video—“Wheels Go Round Round Round–The Explosive Possiblities of Vibrational Kinetic Energy” was also posted to the website:


Here is that video:


UPDATE:Oyster has a very good (and serious) post–“Hold me, thrill me, kiss me, drill me”–on this investigation and past Interior Department corruption.

UPDATE:IG Reportshere (pdf)HERE

Happy Obama Photo

Yes, yes. I make LOLpresidents.

Sue me.

Cha Ching


Exxon Mobil posted a record profit of almost $15 billion dollars in the last quarter. My math skills are a little rusty, so correct me if I’m wrong, but with the help of Microsoft Calculator version 5.1 I believe that comes out to about $2,000…a second.

And John McCain wants to give them an extra billion or so in tax breaks.

Ah, the good life…

Your Obama Sticker Won’t Get You Into Heaven

Something I’ve hadbookmarked for a while that Jacob wrote back during the primaries. Go read and then come back.

Because what that looks like to me is a lot of the same thing, no matter if the word is “war” or “gay” or “abortion”: the second you let those words take over your brain, you’re letting them win. And if you read this blog at all, you know “they” are nobody you want to mess with, because they don’t really exist, because they’re just us, from the other side. Which is why I’m looking forward to the rise of the next Rush Limbaugh. Which is why, dear reader, forgive me — I voted for Bush.


Why? To make it worse. To get us to the point that our 2008 president will be Hillary or Obama. To help wake us up. To bring on the jackboots and the black masks and the closed-circuit televisions; so that FOX News’s particular brand of IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH would spread to every station. To get V For Vendetta made. To scare everybody under the age of thirty.

I’ve been kicking this around in my head for a while, for a few days now, as this nagging sense of depression and adrenaline hangover takes over and my Denver buzz finally wears off. I’ve been trying to figure out what happens next, because this already feels like Wednesday of next week over here, is how tired I am and how tired I know all of you are.

And all I’ve come up with is that it isn’t enough.

It isn’t enough, that we’re gonna get it done this time. It isn’t enough to elect Barack Obama president of the United States. (Howfucking crazy is it, to say that, that we are that fucked, that electing a black dude with a Muslim name to the highest office in the land on a platform of hope and change is not gonna be momentous enough to magically fix the world? I mean it, tell me, how fucked are we that this is the case?) It isn’t enough to say the pendulum’s swung back again, and it isn’t enough to say we get itnow. Now does then no good at all.

It isn’t enough. I want it to be. I’m tired, you’re tired, everybody’s tired. The country’s tired. The world is tired of us tying ourselves up in knots and demanding they pay attention to our little psychodramas; France and Germany are like, “We havestuff going on here if you don’t mind giving us a sec, dude.” Everybody’s tired and I for one want casting that ballot Tuesday to be enough. So that I can say okay, done, did my job, put my work in, wore outtwo keyboards now on this laptop and the straps on two carry-on bags and the soles of four pairs of shitty Target ballerina flats, now I get to go and lay down and wait for things to get better. Now we slap a fresh coat of paint on this broken-ass country and we get to start over, right? Right?

Now I get to stop worrying about the innocent people we’ve locked up in Guantanamo, and the guilty who still have no rights?

Now I get to stop thinking about the people who died in their attics, on their rooftops, in the floodwaters when the hurricanes roared through, whose former homes are still scarred, still broken, and still in such danger?

Now I get to stop seeing on the TV every night (not on the news, not ever on the news of course, but in commercials) people who are actually dying because they can’t afford medicine, losing their homes because they can’t afford doctors?

Now I get to stop thinking that if I ever do manage to get pregnant, my child has zero chance of going to college because I have zero chance of affording it for him or her, if tuition keeps rising?

Now I get to stop remembering the photograph I saw, of a woman lying prone on her soldier husband’s grave, because he went to war and didn’t come home?



I keep thinking that on Tuesday it’ll be enough, to vote for hope instead of fear, for truth instead of lies, for help instead of hurt. I keep thinking what a wonderful thing it will be, all these people, from the 109-year-old daughter of a slave to the 18-year-old first-time voter, coming together to say what they want with their bodies and their voices and their votes.

But it isn’t enough. It can’t be enough. We can’t give ourselves a pass starting on Nov. 5 the way I think we might have four years ago. I keep thinking about that campaign, about four years ago at this time, how sure I was that we were gonna turn back the tide, how that was going to be the break that would make it okay, a statement, loud and clear: YOU DO NOT DO THIS IN OUR NAME YOU BASTARDS NOT IN OUR NAME NOT IN MY NAME NO. And everything that’s happened since has been informed by the conviction that we as a country had a chance to stop it and we didn’t. It isn’t enough that on Tuesday we’ll stop it from getting worse.

Every coffin come home on a plane in four years was one that didn’t have to pass this way, every bill you opened from the hospital that only sort-of fixed you was one that didn’t have to be this high. Everyone shot, everyone starved, everyone lost, everyone scared, it isn’t enough that it’s almost over becauseit’s not almost over. It’ll never be over. And over doesn’t mean it never happened in the first place.

The dead are not less dead yesterday so we can have a better president today. The imprisoned are not set free upon Inauguration Day. You do not do a good thing and get to put down your weight. One good deed doesn’t clear you; two wrongs don’t make a right but a right doesn’t cancel out a wrong, either. Absolution isn’t cereal, it’s not something you can buy, no matter how much you stack up on the checkout counter. I don’t believe in retroactively assigning the purpose of the Bush years’ suffering as getting us to Obama, because it feels cheap, like we’re letting ourselves off the hook. The dead are still dead. The fires are still burning. The prison doors remain shut. And we are not absolved.

I’m not trying to be a downer here or call anybody fired up about Obama (hell, the minute I get some sleep I’ll be fired up about Obama again my own self) a chump or a sucker. It will be wonderful that given the chance, we didn’t continue the bullshit artistry we’ve been practicing on ourselves the past eight years. It will be wonderful to say, now we get it. It just won’t make it any less horrible that there was a time when we ever, everdidn’t get it. To paraphrase some dead Christian bastard whose books I read when I can’t sleep which lately is all the time, the pain then has to be part of the happiness now. Otherwise it’s an excuse, and there is no excuse for the past four years. None. Not even in the hindsight of an Obama victory. Not even then. It isn’t enough.

Jacob goes on in the piece I quoted above:

If I could go back, I wouldn’t do it. Understand that I was voting in Houston, TX — no matter who it was I voted for, I was voting for Nader — so there wasn’t a measurable civic result. And my aims were accomplished. But if I could go back, I wouldn’t do it, and the reason for that is that there are enough bad guys in the world already, put there by cruel circumstance and scarred history and greed, and posing as one of them, just to get the best out of everybody else, isn’t worth the cost. I would tell myself to shout, and beat against the wall, and scream in the face of anything bigger than myself. I would explain over and over again to myself that people don’t need your intentions or your love, they need your strength, and your bravery, and that no matter how little difference it made, the price you pay for giving in takes more of a toll on you than anybody will ever see.

So what’s the answer, if this isn’t? I’ve spent the past week in a state of advanced exhaustion, the kind where you stop in the middle of a sentence because you can’t remember what you were about to say or who you were about to say it to and that’s AFTER three cups of hot chocolate made with espresso instead of milk. I am dragging, every day, from the back door out and home again, with the effort of keeping my pessimistic shield of We’re Gonna Blow This Somehow raised against the world. I’m an obsessive planner; I believe saying things like, “It’ll happen” is what you do when you’re too fucking lazy to make an outline, so I’ve been planning. What to do if McCain wins this. A lot of open threads, maybe a stockpile of money and warm socks in a box in a safe place somewhere. I’ve been building a mental bunker, and it’s been wearing me out. The year is dying. There are yard signs all over, in piles of leaves, and a sign in my window I look at every morning.

The fight to keep up against the rising tide of hope is too much. The fight to stay afraid is too much. Saying it isn’t enough is too much. That Obama sticker won’t get me into heaven but neither will it send me to hell so on balance, I’m putting it on and kicking through a pile of leaves on my way to the polling place. I don’t have any other choice. The point isn’t that voting for Obama isn’t the answer, it’s that it isn’t the whole one. We won’t be done, after Tuesday. We won’t get to kick back. We cannot undo what has been done in our name. But if it isn’t enough to hope, it isn’t enough to despair, either; what we can do is what’s in front of us.

If I went back to my first presidential election, in 2000, at twenty-two, I’d tell him I was right: Bush would make things worse. So much worse than that little guy could ever imagine. And 9/11, and the war, would change us all so much, and change the shape and character of our country so much, that it would appear as a singularity. That after the war, in this new time, when all the words we speak are words of hope, that I would be unrecognizable to him, that the world, that the country he loved, would be entirely different places, tired, wiped out and scarred by fear and violence and anger. And I would tell him to be brave, and to be bold. I would tell him about the French Revolution, and Charlie Wilson, and all the angry, beautiful art and men and women that the war and this darkness would make, of all of us.

And then I would hold him as fiercely as I could, and tell him it always, inevitably swings back the other way: that it’s always already changing. That the best we can hope for is to be strong, and to be present and aware, and keep the balls going in the air as long as it takes, to learn what we can from the downtimes and remember them for the uptimes, or risk destruction on either side. I’d tell him about war: how it’s always awful, but like most awful things, you’re better off adjusting to it than denying that it exists, or that it will always exist.

“It takes an ass to fill every seat,” I’d say, because that’s what I always say: “Just make sure what side of the aisle you want to be photographed on.” I would tell him that we are all on the anvil, and that every second that passes marks us, and that — Hillary and Obama and Gore willing, the electoral college willing — eventually we’d find our way back to peace, and find ourselves in an America where the only word we can agree on right now, is change.

It isn’t enough, but it isn’t nothing, either. We won’t be done on Tuesday; maybe the point is that we’ll never be done. You do one hard thing and you fail, that’s kind of easier than winning, because failure means you get to go home and lick your wounds a while. Success means you have to keep going. It means you have to keep moving, you have to keep fighting, you have to keep pushing because in this job we’ve assigned ourselves there’s no final deadline. There’s no final anything. The dead are still dead, and maybe the only way they absolve us is if we do not seek their forgiveness. If we don’t pretend we’ve made it okay. If we just recognize that “okay” doesn’t mean what it used to, doesn’t mean what we think it means.

It’s isn’t enough.

Maybe we hear that as encouragement, instead of rebuke. Maybe we hear that, as the country has begun to hear it, as hope instead of hatred. I say all the time in my meatspace life that you do not lose people because you ask too much of them, you lose them because you ask too little, you put a task in front of them that they do not consider worthy of their great strength. The task shifts; the closer you get to the mountaintop the louder the wind howls.

You pull me up, I’ll pull you.


McCain’s Dumb-Ass Ploy

The McCain campaign: sunk at the pier.

The above photo is of the Liberty ship SS Schenectady. It broke in half while sitting at the pier, most likely due to a phenomenon known to metallurgists as brittle fracture. It’s pretty amazing–metal will shatter like glass under certain conditions. But enough about that. I’m here to talk about John McCain’s latest dumbassery.

I speak, of course, of the continued running of TV ads saying that Obama was tight with, as they put it, “Terrorist William Ayers.” This hasn’t done anything for McCain’s standings in the polls, and it won’t. Why? Two reasons.

First: Nobody knows who the fuck William Ayers is. Sure, those of us who are dorks and keep up with politics all the time know. But what about all those “undecided” voters? Nope. Not a chance. Granted, most people didn’t know who William Horton was in 1988. I don’t say “Willie” because that’s not the name he went by. That was something the Bush campaign people came up with because it sounded scarier. Anyway, the ads about Horton worked because they tapped into a larger narrative we have in this country: Scary black man comin’ to get you. A shitty attack like that won’t stick unless it can plug into a larger narrative. But wait, you’re saying. Isn’t there an established storyline about terrorists, and aren’t they the new bogeymen? Well, you’re right, except for this:

Second: Spot the terrorist in the following lineup.

Give up?

Ha! It’s a trick question! They’re all terrorists! They are, of course, William Ayers, Timothy McVeigh, Osama bin Laden, Theodore Kaczynski, and Eric Rudolph. And they have all been responsible for terrorist acts. The reason Ayers is a free man is because the Feds fucked up the case against him. 

The point is, we don’t think of white folks as “terrorists” in this country. Oh, no. Because of decades of coverage of “terrorism” as something that almost always happens in other places and is perpetrated by Kwazy Muzlimz, when most people in America hear the word “terrorist,” they think of this:

Not this:

Nice try, McCain campaign. But you just can’t undo thirty years of narrative with one thirty-second television ad. Your failboat is boarding in the first picture.

A Short Video Depiction Of The McCain Campaign

First, he becomes the presumptive nominee. Then the free-fall. After that, he gets an unexpected lift at the RNC. But it turns out that Sarah Palin was driving the ambulance. And then, well, you can see for yourself.

The Obama Pitch

I said this over at the crack den, but I wanted to expand on it a bit here. It’s a measure of how screwed we’ve been for how long, and how utterly unacknowledged it has been by our leaders, that the very basic statement that once you’ve earned a pension no one should take it away should sound so radical to our ears, should be so welcomed. It’s a measure how voiceless we have been for so long that we would take such wild joy in hearing that no one should lose her house because her husband got sick. It’s a measure of how intemperate our face to the world has been, that someone can speak of “taking the fight” toanyone and be perceived as mild.

In other words, my response to what Obama said in that ad isn’t so much about Obama as it is about Bush, and maybe that’s the case with all politicians, that we hear not just what they’re saying but what we’re saying. In that case I’m less reassured than I would be by this kind of thing ordinarily, because what I heard very clearly was WE ARE MASSIVELY SCREWED THIS IS A VERY DEEP HOLE PLEASE SEND GRAPPLING HOOKS AND CANNED GOODS.


More Stupid Shit

Please, dear Jeebus, let it all be over soon.

So, while I was drinking coffee this morning, I turned on the CBS morning show to see what they’d have to say about Sweet SweetBarack’s prime-time address last night. Before they got to that topic, however, they were talking about polls. Harry Smith, Julie Chen, and the collection of other empty suits mentioned that Senator Obama is “ahead in most polls.” Then they cut to a segment in which the reporter uttered the same phrase.

Excuse me? Ahead in most polls?

Obama is ahead ineverysinglefuckingnationalpoll, and has been for a month and a half. Saying that he leads in “most polls” is like saying an undefeated team has won most of its games. Is this some of that bullshit “objectivity” that the major news organizations like to claim they exhibit? It’s not bias to say the following: Shit looks bad for McCain. Real bad. In fact, he hasn’t even gotten to 50% in any of the national polls (with the exception of one USA Today/Gallup pollwhich was almost certainly an outlier).

That ain’t bias. That’s a fact. 

But the dumbassery didn’t stop there. Oh, no.

These halfwits went on to talk about how, in some state polls, John McCain is within the margin of error! It’s true! So, and this was their example, even though Obama is up seven points in Ohio, due to the four-point margin of error, it could be a tie! Really! Trust us!

Come the fuck on. If you’re up by seven points in a poll of 600 people (the size of most state polls), it’s almost impossible for that to be a tie. Kevin Drum addressed all of this in 2004, and he did it pretty well. So I think I’ll let him handle it again.Take it away, Kevin:

TheGlobe and Mail reported this [49-47 Kerry-Bush poll] as a “statistical tie”
because Kerry’s 2% lead is within the poll’s margin of error (MOE) of
3%. This in turn is based on the theory that (a) statistical results
are credible only if they are at least 95% certain to be accurate, and
(b) any lead less than the MOE is less than 95% certain.

There are two problems with this: first, 95% is not some kind of
magic cutoff point, and second, the idea that the MOE represents 95%
certainty is wrong anyway. A poll’s MOEdoes represent a 95% confidence interval for each individual’s percentage, but itdoesn’t represent a 95% confidence for the difference between the two, and that’s what we’re really interested in.

In fact, what we’rereally interested in is the probability
that the difference is greater than zero — in other words, that one
candidate is genuinely ahead of the other. But this probability isn’t a
cutoff, it’s a continuum: the bigger the lead, the more likely that
someone is ahead and that the result isn’t just a polling fluke. So
instead of lazily reporting any result within the MOE as a “tie,” which
is statistically wrong anyway, it would be more informative to just go
ahead and tell us how probable it is that a candidate is really ahead.
As a service to humanity, here’s a table that tells you:

So in the poll quoted above, how probable is it that Kerry is really
ahead? The MOE of the poll is 3%, so go to the top row. Kerry’s lead is
2%, which means there’s a 75% probability that he’s genuinely ahead of
Bush (i.e., that his lead in the poll isn’t just due to sampling error).


Now, there are plenty of reasons other than sampling error to take
polls with a grain of salt: they’re just snapshots in time, the results
are often sensitive to question wording or question ordering, it’s
increasingly hard to get representative samples these days, etc. etc.
But from a pure statistical standpoint, a lead is a lead and it’s
always better to be ahead than behind.

So: how about if the media gets itself out of the mythical
“statistical tie” business and just reports the actual probabilities
instead? The table above does all the heavy lifting, and all it takes
is a5-line Excel spreadsheet if you want more precision. Simple.

See? It’s not that hard.

I know the news people have a “horse race” narrative that they love to push, and conventional wisdom is that blowouts aren’t fun to watch (and, as we all know, fewer eyeballs on screens means lower ad revenue). But shit. Call ’em like you see ’em.

I hope that in January, after Mount Rushmore has been re-carved with the faces of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jeremiah Wright, and Aretha Franklin; after “Fuck tha Police” becomes the new national anthem; after all cigarettes are outlawed except for Kools and Newports; after we’ve all been forced to become Commie Muslim atheists; after President Obama hands the nuclear launch codes to al-Qaeda; after abortions are not only fully funded but mandatory; after Rastus Odinga Odinga becomes Secretary of State; and after we’ve all been interned in Learn How To Hate Whitey camps–after all of that, I hope that Caliph Obama Marx X institutes some serious statisticalre- education programs, so we won’t ever have to deal with this kind of stupid again.

I would have said that we’d have Huey Newton, Nat Turner, and Stokely Carmichael on our money, but of course we won’t need any money in our coming Worker’s Paradise, now will we, Comrade?