Wednesday, November 26, 2008

QB 4 Hire

Dennie Green writes in regarding his erstwhile employer:
I think being a fan of a team with no QB I would prefer Brady. This is based on 1) a completely uninformed opinion on my part that a pocket QB like Brady should not be limited by having had a leg injury of this nature (unlike a to RB or Vick-type QB) and 2) that we really don't know how Cassel will progress. Sure, they have almost identical stats through 10 starts, but that does not mean that Cassel will develop into the same QB that Brady did. Also, the Vikings are pretty much a solid QB (and maybe WR) from being a very good team. Even if Brady has fewer years left than Cassel, they might be enough to take advantage of the talent that the Vikings do have now. They can also try and find their own Cassel in future drafts for the post-Brady era. Why pay Cassel nearly Brady money when you won't know what you are getting.
Now that I've thought about it for a few days, I agree with this assessment. Even if you were relatively confident that Cassel was a can't-miss winner at QB and would be Brady-esque after a few years of seasoning, the boom-and-bust nature of the NFL makes your time horizons pretty brief. In other words, you can plan one, maybe two seasons ahead, but beyond that is essentially impossible.

I think the Pats will get more or less the same in a trade for Brady or Cassel. This is not to say that Brady isn't worth more than Cassel, but rather that teams aren't going to make a Hershel Walker type deal (put another way, the Player Value to Trade Compensation graph asymptotes). Since they are a Super Bowl contender in 2009, and you're better off with a 32 year old Brady that season, then that's who you go with. What you don't do is worry about 2014 when Brady is 37 and Cassel would be in his prime. That is too far away for any effective planning.

I'll let another fan have the last word, with point 6 probably being the most important:

On the merits of Brady/Cassel, I have a few points:

(1) Brady is certainly a good value. At least he was last year. He's obviously the best QB, and he's not the highest-paid. That means that the Pats are getting a comparative advantage with Brady, at least against some teams. This would be a lot easier of a problem if that wasn't the case (consider when MJ was the best hoopster on the planet, but also getting paid double the second-best player; in a hard cap system, he might have been a bad value.

(2) Cassel is probably a good value. He's getting paid chump money to be an average starter. But it's only been half a season. He's no more baluable now than a minor-leaguer lighting it up in September. We'll have to see if he can hit a curveball after they find the hole in his swing.

(3) Cassel is less of a deal than he appears, since he'll command a salary that, in theory, makes him value-neutral as soon as he's a free agent.

(4) Brady's trade value might not be as high as you think: for all the reasons he's (potentially) not a great value to the Pats: huge contract, possiblyt ijury, getting old, etc.

(5) This would only a winning move for the Pats if the value they gain from Cassel can be translated in increased skill at other positions. That's not snap-your-fingers easy; there's a lot of variance in signing new players, nevermind the draft.

(6) One huge problem is risk-averse management: even if trading Brady is the right move, it has to be very clealy the right move or no onne will take the cahnce of the public-relations disaster of trading brady and then Cassel being a bust.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Market asymmetry

Right now the Patriots have two quarterbacks, Matt Cassel and Tom Brady. The former is 26 and has started a handful of NFL games. The latter is 31, rehabbing from a torn MCL & ACL, and has three Super Bowl rings. Who's more valuable?

While you don't know until you try, of course, my bet is that the free market of other NFL teams would pay more for Matt Cassel than for Tom Brady. This is somewhat a function of probably having more teams in the bidding for a Cassel than a Brady. I could be totally off-base on this, and please lemme know if you think so -- especially if you pull for a team that has a crappy QB, whom would you want them to pursue this offseason, Cassel or Brady?


One lingering political story that seems to have ended is what will happen with Joe Biden's Senate seat. A particularly annoying aspect of the story has been the repeated insistence that Biden wants to make sure his son can run for the seat in 2010.

Now, maybe Delaware is so blue, and the Biden brand so popular, that these behind-the-scenes machinations won't make a difference. But isn't there a decent chance for some push-back by the electorate -- no, we'll choose our Senate candidates ourselves, thank you very much. Let's also note that Beau Biden has run exactly one campaign in his life, for attorney general.

While dynastic politics is not exactly unheard of in America, it does seem particularly anti-American. If Beau Biden wins an election on his own, fine, but to have your father appoint someone who clearly is just there to keep the seat warm, well, that's not exactly serving the interests of the people of Delaware.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


The final page of this week's Sports Illustrated (which has pretty much been wasted space since Reilly left) has an interesting article about Derrick Coleman, power forward for the Syracuse Orangemen from 1987 - 1990. Coleman was a freshman the year the 'cuse were beaten by Keith Smart of Indiana in the '87 finals, and a senior when Syracuse became the first #2 seed to lose in the first round (to the #15 Richmond Spiders). Coleman was taken first in the NBA draft by the Nets, and went on to have a decidedly mediocre NBA career.

Anyway, the article surrounds DC's efforts to improve his hometown of Detroit. Apparently he's quite active and generous and all that good stuff. Worth the read. But I find it incredibly odd, especially in a sports magazine, to spend several paragraphs talking about Dave Bing's run for mayor of Detroit, his relationship with Coleman, and not mention that Bing also had a stellar basketball career at Syracuse.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Me Vote Pretty One Day

Here's a nice link that shows why Americans score poorly on standardized tests, and why it affects the identity of Minnesota's next Senator:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Adieu, Coco

The Sox have shipped out Coco Crisp, he of the spectacular defense and mediocre offense. I love quotes like this, from the Royals GM:
Royals general manager Dayton Moore called the switch-hitting Crisp a
"championship-caliber player" who will help Kansas City move forward. Crisp is a
career .280 batter in seven seasons with the Cleveland and the Red Sox.

Being on a team that wins a championship does not qualify you as "championship-caliber." Doug Mirabelli has two rings with the Red Sox, does that make him twice the championship-caliber of Coco? Coco is slightly above-average as a CF, no more, no less.

For what it is worth, we got a young relief pitcher for him. His stats look good, but figuring out how relief pitchers will go from year to year is essentially impossible.

Unions, ctd. (& lunch-time link)

[updated, see below]

I've gotten a little push back on my 'unions' post (including one that included the phrase "Earth to John"). Let me be clear. I do not think (nor did I write) that the contracts the unions have with car manufacturers have nothing to do with Detroit's failures -- it is generally accepted and repeated that labor costs make it more costly to produce an American car in Michigan than a Japanese car in Kentucky.

What I do think, however, is that unions are being scapegoated. The primary reason the Big 3 are going under is that they completely misread the market and continued to make cars that no one would want to buy.

Further, let's look at the executive salary structure of the Big 3. According to this article in USA Today, "GM CEO Rick Wagoner earned $9.3 million in salary and bonus in 2006" and "Ford's new CEO, Alan Mulally, got $27.8 million in salary and bonus in his first few months on the job." Now compare that to the Japanese:
Japanese companies are not required to break out salaries and bonuses for top
executives. Instead, they lump them together. Last year, Toyota's top 37
executives earned a combined $21.6 million in salary and bonuses, according to
filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. U.K. firm Manifest
Information Services, which analyzes proxy information, estimates Toyota's top
executive, Hiroshi Okuda, earned $903,000 in 2006.

So perhaps the Big 3 could save some dough not by cracking down on health care for their unions but rather not paying their apparently incompetent executives so damn much.

I've got no particular love for unions -- I'm not in one and probably never will be. But to blame the collapse of a long-decaying auto industry on a bunch of laborers is scapegoating at its finest.

[update]: Matt Yglesias provides a nice link, noting that the Big 3 Execs aren't exactly doing any belt-tightening as their companies go under.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I'm purposefully not catching up on what happened today in Congress with the Big 3 and their bailout until I had a chance to write about labor unions and the auto industry...

It has become a talking point of some, especially on the right, that the American auto companies have failed because of their labor unions. The Big 3, based in the midwest, are unionized, while foreign companies that manufacture in the south are not, so the thinking goes that the unions must be the cause of the American auto industry failure. Well, correlation and causation aren't the same. On a pithy note, remember that Lehman Brothers and many other financial industries managed to nosedive without unions, so apparently companies can fail for reasons other than having unionized workers.

Rather, I'd argue that American car companies failed because they made crappy cars. They were light years behind the Japanese in terms of fuel-efficient, small, city-friendly vehicles. Surprise surprise, those factors become more important and giant gas guzzlers don't sell as well. To blame unions for those poor management decisions is ridiculous.

Monday, November 17, 2008

iPS cells, continued

Okay, I agree that I misstated Bush's stated position, namely that research on stem cells couldn't be done with public money, but that is somewhat a secondary point. Indeed, a new plank of the Republican Party, from the RNC earlier this year, would ban outright any and all work on stem cells, regardless of who's paying for it. So while I agree that our policy apparatus allows for a variety of non-black-and-white approaches to various questions, my position is that Americans who have a moral problem with stem cell research are religiously-blinded fools.

Again, to be clear: There are ~25,000 genes in the human genome, and our various cells differ by the combination of which genes are on and which genes are off. While viewing it in this binary 'yes' or 'no' obscures some complexity, 2^25,000 is still a ridiculously large number, so it is easy to see that there's a lot of chance for diversity from cell to cell (again, your brain cells and your intestinal cells do very different things). So I want to know why one particular combination of genes on & off is sacred and can't be experimented on, while every other combination is, apparently, fine.

If I could take a cheek cell, sprinkle a few chemicals on it, and produce a totipotent stem cell, that would be a pretty damn cool thing. I could use these cells for all sorts of human diseases. But the scientifically uneducated would argue that the resultant cell, the one that was in my cheeck but then had the chemicals washed over it, since it could be used to make another human, now cannot be used for research. These people are not arguing from a standpoint of reason, they are arguing from pure uneducated craziness.

Who knows how much further along we'd be if the past 8 years hadn't pretty much been wasted in terms of stem cell research. That's a lot of human suffering.... because some pattern of gene expression is sacred. Ridiculous.

Big 3 Fail

From a recent WSJ editorial:
Other arguments are on the table as well. Some see the troubles at GM and Ford as opportunities to retool the auto industry to produce environmentally friendly cars. Given their long track records of lobbying against fuel economy standards and producing oversized gas guzzlers, this suggestion seems ridiculous, sort of like asking cigarette companies to help with cancer research.

I'm generally in the 'let-them-fail' camp (whether one is talking about car companies or surly 10-year-olds... tough love and such). But Krugman doesn't see it that way, which gives me pause.

Obama was on 60 Minutes last night and was really good. He's got a dorkish sense of humor, which I like. He didn't give major specifics on the auto industry bailout, but he seems to be in a tough position. It would improper for him to totally start acting like president now, but at the same time, not offering proposals makes it seem like he doesn't know what to do. He did quite clearly state that pretty much the first thing he'll do is sign an Executive Order closing Gitmo and banning torture.

This story in the Washington Post was heartening, as I'd like to see government agencies (especially the EPA) be able to do its job again.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Reply to iPS cells

Victor Lazlo responds to my thoughts on iPS cells. My full reply in a bit:
You wrote:

The Decider decided that creating new human ES cells was wrong. Well, not wrong if you are having sex to make babies, which of course makes ES cells, but wrong if you are doing it in a lab ('it' being making ES cells, not having sex to make babies... although presumably W would be against that, too). Bush argued that we already have some ES lines, so let's just use those. The argument against making new ES lines is that, um, well, god puts a soul in a fertilized egg, and because he's done that, we can't use these lines for research. I'm sure Bush said it better (or not), but let's be clear: the only possible reason one could oppose the creation of new ES cell lines is on the grounds of god & religion.

I think this is 100% correct, but only because you are misrepresenting the argument (at least Bush's argument). Bush's position was that he was against using federal money to create new stem cell lines. This is very, very important distinction from the position you are giving him, which is implicitly "Bush wants to making creating stem cell lines illegal."

The underlying problem is that no one seems to think that anything but two extreme positions exist on a whole host of issues: stem cells, abortion, marijuana, etc. Everyone seems to want to debate it as if it's a binary question. But for any human activity, a democracy has at least five choices:

1) make it illegal, with criminal sanctions
2) make it illegal, with civil sanctions
3) decriminalize it, which is effectively "illegal without any sanctions" or "legal, but you can't promote it commercially"
4) allow it commercially via the free market (with or without regulation)
5) support it with public money and/or public support campaigns
6) have the government run and administer it

An example of (1) is murder.
An example of (2) is jaywalking (or now, pot possession in MA).
An example of (3) is pot possession in Alaska in the old days.
An example of (4) cigarette sales
An example of (5) is NSF-backed science research
An example of (6) is the public school system

The problem is that people talk about stuff like stem cell research as if only choices (1), (5), and (6) exist. Bush's position is actually (4), I think.

And look, I'm not saying Bush is right. But on a whole host of issues, I either want the government to make something legal without supporting it (pot smoking) or not support something without making it illegal (abortion, particularly the use of tax money to underwrite them).

It's not my position on stem cells, but I don't think it's an unreasonable position to say "A lot of Americans, including me, have a significant moral problem with this, so while we're not going to make it illegal, we're not going to spend taxpayer money advancing it or put the support of the federal government behind it."

I mean, that's just Lincoln's position on slavery, 1847-1863.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

PhDs Unite

Bob Sacamano writes in regarding teachers:
granted, there are a ton of inputs affecting the education of our youth. and i have no idea how, if at all, unions have an effect. if i had to guess, i would agree with you in saying they don't. i will say this, the referenced article (on Rhee) in the referenced blog (andrew sullivan) is interesting. i think we should be paying our teachers more, regardless of unions. i don't know if a scheme to bribe teachers and undermine the union will work, however. but i digress. the reason i write is because of something a read a few days ago. it is about teaching, and i copied it below. it presents an interesting theory about the quality of teachers. in essence, it says that in the past 50 or whatever years, when more job opportunities opened up for women, the top women no longer aspired to be teachers but aspired to land those new opportunities as doctors, lawyers, etc. this exodus left a lower tier, to put it rudely, to teach our children. and with a lower quality of teacher, we get a lower quality of education. i have no idea if this is true, but since it is somewhat related to one of my own theories => the lack of $ teachers get paid means that, as a generalization, fewer "successful" college students will gravitate toward teaching and instead aim for other, higher paying positions. heck, it's even happening at the PhD level. Loser, sell-out grad students are leaving academia (or science altogether) to chase after higher paying positions in other fields.

Here's the article Bob references.
Two points. First, I agree that if teachers were paid more, there might be more competition for teacher spots and thus you'd end up with better teachers (George Will doesn't seem to understand this basic free market principle... he writes about it every now and again, so I'm sure it'll come up again). But I'm not sure if the idea that the Wall Street melt down will result in a flood of talented people entering the work force. Put another way, if these people were really all that talented, so many of them would not have been caught holding the bag whent he bubble burst.

Boo teachers!

Andrew Sullivan has a post lamenting the existence of teachers unions, arguing that "until we really do bust the teachers unions, the next generation of kids in public schools is at risk."

I have no love for teachers unions, because the one that touches my day-to-day life seems to be pretty ineffective at representing the needs of its members. Briefly, I think that benefits are slanted too much towards the interests of older memebers, and doesn't reflect the reality that many female teachers will want to return to work after having a child.

But, blaming the teachers unions as the rate-limiting step in improved education in this country is off-base. The 'welfare queen' of this meme is the tenured teacher who doesn't give a flip and mails it in every class. I know a lot of teachers and I don't know one who fits that category. Beyond annectodes, performance at public (with unions) and private (without) schools is damn similar, so the data suggest that unions are not what's holding children back. So the blame-unions crowd are taking something familiar (distrust of unions) and applying it hapharzardly to this situation.

I don't know what the problem is, although near the top of the list has to be bad parenting, either in terms of setting examples or encouraging self-discipline.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dr. Strangecell

I happened to come across a newly published paper today that reminded me of a topic I've been meaning to think/write about for awhile, and that is iPS cells (for an inflammatory title: "why iPS cells show how misguided religious institutions are, and the people who dogmatically follow them").

First, some terminology. We've all heard of stem cells, and in the parlance of our times, stem cells refer to embryonic stem cells, abbreviated ES cells. These are cells that arise very early in development: sperm + egg = 1 cell, and ES cells are a few days' worth of cell divisions after that. As you may have noticed, the cells in your body are quite different from one another; the cells that make up your brain, your tongue, your pancreas, etc. are all doing very different things, but they are doing it from the exact same set of blueprints, the DNA you inherited from your mom and pop/milkman. Your cells accomplish this diversity by turning genes on and off at various times, and thus differentiating into various cells types. ES cells, because they are such an early population of cells (that happen to grow readily in a lab on plastic), are a wonderful resource for figuring out how these decisions about diversity get made and hold tremendous promise for combating a myriad of human diseases. From a very basic standpoint, most things that are wrong with you medically arise because something is broken, and ES cells allow you to re-make that part.

You may recall that a few years back, The Decider decided that creating new human ES cells was wrong. Well, not wrong if you are having sex to make babies, which of course makes ES cells, but wrong if you are doing it in a lab ('it' being making ES cells, not having sex to make babies... although presumably W would be against that, too). Bush argued that we already have some ES lines, so let's just use those. The argument against making new ES lines is that, um, well, god puts a soul in a fertilized egg, and because he's done that, we can't use these lines for research. I'm sure Bush said it better (or not), but let's be clear: the only possible reason one could oppose the creation of new ES cell lines is on the grounds of god & religion.

This point needs a paragraph of its own. I smash a rock and this does no harm because it is not alive. I eat a tomato and that is fine, because it is a plant and doesn't have a nervous system and thus feelings. I kick a puppy and that is bad, because clearly the puppy does have feelings. I eat a pig and that is... eh, okay, foggy area, something that clearly intelligent people disagree on... I eat a pig that has been confined to a cage its whole life, maybe not okay, a pig that has roamed around its whole life, maybe more okay. ES cells are not a pig or a puppy. These cells do not feel a thing, because they can't, they are simply a little ball of cells with no nervous system, no brain, no nothing. So if you want to oppose the use of ES cells in medical research, you must oppose it on the basis that god has a plan for those cells, that god has tucked a soul into those cells (just under the Golgi apparatus, I'm told).

Back to my original topic. A major point I mentioned earlier: the DNA to make any cell type is in every cell type. Quite recently, researchers have figured out how to take cells from an adult and, by introducing specific genes, turn back the clock. These cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) and as far as anyone can tell, behave just like ES cells (pluripotent means that, just like ES cells, these cells can differentiate into every other cell type). To make this transformation occur, at first researchers needed to introduce various genes; in this recent paper, they substituted chemicals for some genes, so at some point in the near future, it is reasonable (or, at least, not unreasonable) to expect that you could swab your cheek for some cells, sprinkle some molecules on it, and voila, you've got some cells that could be used to make a new liver.

So, isn't this a problem? If anything that has the capacity to be a human has a soul, wouldn't these iPS cells qualify?
By definition, true pluripotent cells could be used to make a human. Are we splitting a soul if I were to make another human out of my skin cells? Or does that mean we could be making soul-less people -- I get the soul, my clone gets screwed? If I were inclined to such religious belief, I'd be pissed off beyond belief that scientists are making iPS cells in the lab, for the exact same reason I didn't want otherwise-garbage frozen embryos from fertility clincs used in the lab. Yet I haven't heard a peep from the Religious Right about this. Perhaps they see a distinction I don't. Or perhaps they are just dogmatic morons who haven't asked an original question their entire lives and seek comfort in slavishly following ridiculous doctrines. Either way....

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Please no Kerry

That font of knowledge,, details why John Kerry would be a bad SecState. Needless to say, I agree. Obama took a lot of flak, and stuck to his guns, over whether we should negotiate with leaders. Do you want John Kerry doing the negotiating? Do you want John Kerry showing up on Meet the Press to explain your latest actions in the foreign policy arena?

I'm sure John Kerry would in fact love to be SecState. I'm sure one reason John Kerry was quick to endore Obama in the primaries is that he had an eye on some appointment in a future Obama administration (Kerry's not close to the Clintons). But I want a lot of things and can't have them. I suppose one upside, though, is that it would get Theresa out of the country. I can't imagine Michelle Obama has much to talk to Theresa Heinz Kerry about.

Bill Richardson wouldn't be a bad choice. I think the beard-grow was a good move for him, because it takes away attention from this jowels. And, if I recall correctly from the debates, he was a governor. And has three point plans for everything, which is what you want from a Secretary.

Actually, though, I hope that Obama picks neither of them. I gotta imagine that we could do better.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Since it is official US policy that we don't torture, we just refer to torture by other names. Many Americans and observers around the world have been horrified by our performance since 9/11, and torture is at the top of the list. Obama has been consistently anti-toture, while many on the Republican side have mocked Dems for wanting to coddle the terrorists. For awhile, McCain talked tough about torture, but during the primary season he lost a bit of his mettle in this area, and indeed, during the RNC, Palin mocked Obama, saying "Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America, and he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.”

I think a great first move by an Obama administration would be to put John McCain front and center at some sort of statement, legislation, whatever, that made it quite clear that we are not a country that tortures. First, as someone who has been tortured and has at many points in the past pointed out how pointless it is, McCain has some credibility on the issue. Second, the post-partisan aura that would eminate from such a move would be astounding and would score Obama a lot of points with the general public. Only the most raving right-wingers would oppose this, and anyone on the fence would take one look at the Obama-McCain partnership and decide it is a good idea, no matter what Sean Hannity says.

Obama transition

Obama gave his first press conference yesterday, and has already announced his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel. I had always assumed that Rahm would end up with a high-level position in an Obama Administration, and CoS seemed like an obvious one. Note that while John Boehner, GOP leader in the House immediately blasted it, Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senator from South Carolina, praised it as a "wise" decision.

Interestingly, Byrd has in fact stepped down as chair of the Appropriations Committee. We'll have to see who the replacement is, but in general, Byrd doesn't exactly have the strongest committment to progressive policies especially in the environmental realm, so I think this is good news for the Dems. Besides, he's 90, time for someone else to have a shot. Earlier I heard Inoye from Hawaii floated as a replacement, but he's in his 80s, and I'm not sure if that makes much sense. We'll see, I guess. Over in the House, Waxman, whom you might remember as the bald, mustachiod guy from the baseball steroid hearings, is challenging Dingell from Michigan for chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. For the reason I'd love for Byrd to step down, Dingell has been a real road bump towards much environmental legislation (he represents entrenched car interests). Further, Waxman has always struck me as, if nothing else, sincere and truly committed to the progressive cause, so more power to him.

Ned Nedelender writes in:
As noted above, a liberal Supreme Court death in February has got to be the nightmare for Obama. Not the tone you want to set for you admin. But it does raise an interesting parlor question: if you're Obama and you have your druthers, when do you want the first SC retirement? I assume one will happen at the end of the session in June, but that's probably earlier than I want if I'm Barack...

I've been wondering the same thing. I agree that an immediate retirement/death would not be a good thing for Obama, because the Supreme Court battles tend to occur along the more social rifts in our society, Roe v. Wade being at the top of the list, of course, but stem cells, torture (is that a social issue?), etc. Obama doesn't want to refight these battles, especially when the process is largely out of his hands once he picks the guy or girl. If I were Barack, I'd be hoping for at least a year of my presidency, working with strong majorities in both houses, to actually get policy stuff done before dealing with any Supreme Court stuff. Of course, it will be interesting to see many on the Right who insisted on an 'up-or-down vote' during the Bush Administration do exactly the opposite.

Friday, November 7, 2008

My two favorite people

This is why the election mattered so much:

Los Angeles (E! Online) – In case Barack Obama needs an Inauguration Day soundtrack, the Boss should have him covered.

Bruce Springsteen is planning to release a new studio album with the E Street Band in January, right in time for Obama's ascendance to the White House.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

And the winner is...

Now that North Carolina has been called for Obama, and Missouri really looks like it'll go McCain, we can announce the winner of the Electoral Vote Prediction Contest...


On Oct. 14 (the day before the 3rd debate, and thus in the '10 point bonus' date range), I predicted 12 of the 14 states correctly (I got Indiana & Missouri wrong.. conveniently worth the same number of electoral votes). Further, I guessed the electoral college exactly right, 364 (should Nebraska's 2nd District end up in Obama's column, I'd still win).

So I got that going for me, which is nice...


Linus Pauling sends in this story. 7.01 is MIT's introductory biology class, and Bob Weinberg is a giant in the field of cancer research:
Not sure if word got back to you about this yet, but during Weinberg's 7.01 lecture and then during floor meeting he made a little speech about the election. He recounted to us about what he said in 2004 to his class after Bush won, the whole "you have more intellect in the last digit of your little finger than Bush". Then he talked about how it was hard to appreciated historic events when you are so close to them. But he feels like this was one. He starts going into this story about how he was in DC and heard MLK give his "I have a dream speech". At this point he starts crying and has to pause for a little while. Then he goes on to say he taught at a recently integrated school in Alabama in the 1960s that had 610 black students and two white students. All the students and their families were sharecroppers, and he had tried to help them vote. At this point he was so choked up he couldn't really finish the story. Wow.

I happened to TA the same class in 2001, and he gave a similarly moving speech in the lecture following 9/11.

Election wrap-up

Allowed myself a day to recover, now back to 'work' as it were. A piece of advice: don't give blood and then drink heavily.

Two graphs caught my attention in the post-election round-up. First, here's one from the NYT showing areas of the country where McCain did better than Bush in '04. Hmm, what do these areas of the country have in common?

I suppose that the Louisiana redness can be attributed to Katrina -- New Orleans was a Democratic stronghold, and many of them have left the state. But for the Ozarks and southern Appalachians, I guess you either have to posit that they for whatever reason really liked John Kerry in '04 or they wouldn't vote for a black guy in '08. My money is on the latter. For Arkansas, I wonder if there were a lot of Clinton voters there who just refused to vote Obama.

A second graph shows that the states pretty much lined up as they did in '04, but that Obama simply 'moved the line' a few percentage points in his favor, enough to have a huge swing on the electoral college:

This shouldn't be surprising, of course, but it is still neat to see such a nice correlation. The one data point that I find particularly interesting is Massachusetts, as apparently there were people who voted Kerry in '04 but couldn't be moved to vote Obama in '08. If you happen to know anyone who voted as such, I'd be fascinated to meet them.

When looking at the final results, a few things stick out. First, Obama won two Bush states -- Nevada (+12) & New Mexico (+15) -- by larger margins that three Kerry states -- Pennsylvania (+11), Minnesota (+10), and New Hampshire (+10). I would imagine that increased Latino vote share accounts for a good chunk of this. Also, while Obama won more states than he needed to, the state that put him over the top was (as I predicted) Colorado. He won Colorado by 7 points, which game him his 270th to 278th EV. Viginia was next at +5, followed by Ohio (+4), Florida (+2), Indiana (+1) and possibly North Carolina (<1).>

In general, the pollsters did a very good job with this election. I'm sure or will do a thorough run-down. Of course, it is easier to get it right when it isn't all that close, as calling one or two states wrong will still give you the right winner. Also, unlike previous elections, this one was remarkably stable in the polling pretty much from the second debate onward, while both '00 and '04 showed a lot of late movement.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day!

11:18pm - Well, after sveral minutes of jumping up and down, we've won, and now McCan has coneeded. Thank logic and reason, Obama won.

10:40 pm - After looking at every possible scenario, Obama will be president (I can't type right now because I'm hammered b/c I decided this in my mind an hour ago)... Holy hell, this is unreal. Wow, wow, wow! WOW!

10:37 pm - So when does Obama speak? Is this the most significant moment of my lifetime? I think it is... WE WON WE WON WE WON!!!

10:05 pm - Corks popped, sobriety lost, WE WON!!!

9:42 pm - Apparently my math doesn't mean shit, but Chuck Todd's does.. I'm about to get the champagne

9:35 pm - Others in my home have not allowed me to pop the corks yet. But in my mind, and voice, which is loud, it is over!


9:17 pm - Just as in '06, Virginia tightening as the night goes on... good sign for Obama

9:09 pm - A bit surprised that more hasn't been called yet, but things still trending Obama's way. Remember, VA went LATE for Webb in '06, very late. VA will still flip, I think...

8:50 pm - Looks like Florida might be called for Obama before Virginia....

8:36 pm - Don't like that GA got called so early...

8:04 pm - and NH called immediately!!!

8:00 pm - That PA got called as the same time as MA (i.e. when polls closed) is a really really good sign.

7:43 pm - On MSNBC... what is the difference between too CLOSE to call and too EARLY to call... probably something about where the exit polls think it is going and how much of the actual vote totals reflect that...

7:35 pm - Indiana too close to call: good.... Virginia Obama behind: bad. Meaningless, of course, because we don't have full demographic breakdown so we can't figure out who's over and under performing. But still, angst ain't fun. Confident I am, but angst.

7:15 pm - Indiana still close... the longer it stays closer, the better Obama's chances

6:52 pm - only 10% in, but Kentucky is close... he ain't going to win, but if he even kept it close.

6:40 pm - 20 minutes to Virginia... A few days ago I predicted that Virginia would be called at 9:16pm, so I guess I'll stick with that.

6:13 pm - I just spent some time checking out various news organizations' websites for electoral results, and's seems the most intuitive to me (assuming you have an updated version of Flash). Quite nicely, you can mouse over a map of the state and, county by county, see the results. This particularly helps when there are urban areas and rural areas and you want to see how they are voting.

6:04 pm - An email is circulating regarding a plea from the Obama campaign in Minnesota urging people to get out and vote, that the race is closer than they expect. While that sounds ominous, let's note that the Senate race is very close, and Obama voters are likely to be Franklin voters.

4:45 pm - Final tally from the Electoral Vote Prediction contest. Average Obama total is 337. Majorities have Obama winning NM, MI, PA, WI, NH, CO, NV, MN, VA, FL, and OH (in that order). Missouri came in at just under 50% for Obama, while NC and IN were predicted to go McCain's way about two-thirds of the time.

4:09 pm - Back from blood, class, and voting. No lines right now (mid-day is a good time to go, not surprisingly). My favorite site,, predicts Obama 349, McCain 189. We're just under three hours away from the polls closing in Virginia. Remember, though, it takes a long time to collect and count all the votes -- I remember the Webb/Allen Senate race, which was very close, not getting called until around midnight, and turnout in a mid-term election is significantly lower than right now. The networks arne't going to make any calls based on exit polling alone, so it will be some time before even the early states get called. From previous elections, I recall that tends to have the best county-by-county breakdown of results, which is very important for determining what the cumulative vote of a state actually means (i.e. if Obama is neck-and-neck in Virginia but most of the DC suburbs haven't reported yet, then that's a good sign).

11:00 am - Off to donate blood (I wonder if I'll bleed Obama blue). If I get one more free Red Cross T-shirt, they will own a majority of my dresser drawer (but still not be able to invoke cloture).

10:01 am - Long lines everywhere today, yet another reminder that we have such a bizarre voting system. There's all this crap about voter fraud and purging of rolls and such. I think a lot of this stems from simple clerical errors (i.e. does your ID list your middle initial but the voter roll doesn't). Also, when you move (which young people do a lot) you need to specifically remember to change your voting address with the board of elections -- why this can't be done automatically when you change your driver's license, IRS address, etc. is beyond me. And why doesn't every state have no-questions-asked early voting? Open up the polls for a week. Yes, it would cost more, but as a fraction of the budget it would be pretty damn tiny.

9:02 am - from Matt Yglesias, a nice statement on the idiocy of Joe the Plumber:
Thus, a white male small-business owner practicing a blue collar trade and earning enough money to be hit by Obama’s tax hikes is nothing other than the Platonic Ideal of a Republican (think Tom DeLay when he owned a successful bug-killing business). Republican crowds go wild for Joe because they can identify with him. But by the same token, the people who identify with Joe are the Republican base. They can’t turn this thing around. And they’re certainly not the people you’re supposed to be talking to in October. It’d be as if Barack Obama were criss-crossing the country with a young, hip lesbian acting as his main surrogate to attack McCain’s health care plan.

8:41 am - Karl Rove predicts 338 Obama, 200 McCain. Of the true swing states, he has Florida and Ohio going for Obama, while Missouri, North Carolina, and Indiana stay red.

8:17 am - has its pretty-much-final analysis up, and they have 273 EVs in the 'strong Dem' category, with Colorado putting Obama over the top. They also put Virginia and Nevada in the 'lean Dem' category, giving him 291 EVs. Over 100 EVs are in the toss-up status, all the states you'd expect -- NC, OH, FL, etc.

8:09 am - Votemaster has his prediction up: 353 for Obama, 174 McCain, with Missouri tied (that seems like kinda a cop-out)

6:13 am - My fourth presidential election (making this Election IV: A New Hope). If anything, I think that Obama's support in the polls has been a bit underestimated, due to cell phone bias and a giant surge in black turnout. On a Boston-specific note, I'm really enjoying Dennis & Callahan's attempt to put a positive spin on what's going to happen today. In two minutes of listening, I've heard the word 'socialist' 4 four times and an explanation of why all the polls are wrong. And now Obama is a flawed candidate because he should be up by 20 points -- the American people are stupid, is the issue (but I guess they were smart in '00 and '04).

Monday, November 3, 2008

PUMA no more

Chief Brody of Amity Island, who for a long time was a bit up in the air about Obama's candidacy and certainly didn't drink the Obama Kool-Aid during the primary season, writes in:

So, last Thursday I decided it was about time to start reading The Audacity of Hope, imagining that I would have such a low-key, relaxing weekend that I might finish it by tomorrow... Well... I'm in to the third chapter at least.. but for me, so far, that's enough... Enough to see that Obama really IS different... and that what he's saying is very interesting... And so I have doubts now how you could have been undecided this time last year (Obama or Clinton) ..... having read his book AND heard his speech at the '04 Convention.

Yes, so reading this book is getting me even more excited of the prospect of Obama being president... I am hopeful that he can actually bring the change that he talks about... and, actually, I understand what change he IS talking about now... well more so than before.... I mean, what's interesting to me so far is that he stresses the importance of understanding where other people are coming from... of accepting the fact that not everyone will agree with you or share your views.. and that you might not always be right and should consider other peoples ideas.... So, even though he is a democrat.. even though he might be quite "liberal", that doesn't necessarily mean that all of his policies/programs/etc will be crazy liberal.. And the McCain campaign has sort of capitilized on this idea that Obama is super partisan... that he's never voted outside his party or something like that... So, I wish that the Obama campaign had some how capitilized on that idea better... they may have a bit... but the fact that this was new information to me means that it is probably news to a lot of the swing voters that don't spend as much time reading articles about Obama as I do... granted, I am out of country so I have missed all commercials, etc. that you guys see.. but ya... anyways... I'm excited....

Indeed, Obama has consistently had an appealing message. If you haven't gotten the chance to read "The Audacity of Hope" I highly recommend it -- try it on audiobook for a real treat, as it is read by Obama.

I honestly think the last time I was this excited about anything in the world-at-large (as opposed to my personal life) was the '04 Red Sox, but even then only when they were up by a bunch of runs in game 7 of the ALCS (way more dread during that whole process). Tomorrow will be the culmination of something I've been following (obsessing over) for several years. And really, when the daughter of a slave can cast a vote for a black man, truly something historic has occurred.

Final chance!

Click on the Election Prediction Contest link on the left to enter your final guesses for how this will end up. Remember, each human can enter up to five times, so if you have a cautious side, an excited side, etc. all your personalities can cast their vote. I'm going to try the same argument at my polling place tomorrow.

We can hear them now

By now we have >95% of all the polling data we're going to have before Tuesday. has a very interesting graph of where the various national trackers have the race. In yellow are pollsters who include cell-phone-only surveys, while gray has landline-only samples. Striking:

If the cell phone only crowd is being weighted properly, then it looks like Obama is going to win the popular vote by about 10 points, which would probably put him close to 400 electoral votes -- it would mean that pretty much every single swing state went his way, including some that aren't really thought of as swing states, like Indiana, Montana, and North Dakota (hell, maybe even Arizona).

Of course, there could be regional bias to these data. Perhaps, the cell-phone-only crowd tends to live in big coastal cities, so what they're doing is not relevant to, say, Montana. But Florida has a lot of big coastal cities. Ohio has big cities. North Carolina has a lot of young folk in cities.

Regardless of where these voters are and how it affects the electoral map, if Obama succeeds in beating McCain by >10 points and breaks the 55% popular vote barrier, he will be the first non-incumbent president to do so since FDR.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

History's 'problem'

One difficulty in studying history is that the further away in time an event occurs, the more easily the outcome of that event can be attributed to overarching narratives and trends, or put another way, credit can be deflected away from the people who took part in that event -- oh, it was inevitable, those historical characters were simply in the right place at the right time.

I think it would be a serious error for political historians to look on the 2008 campaign and assume that Obama won simply because things were bad for Republicans. This is a theme I've written about before, largely in the debate over whether a generic Democrat would be doing better or worse than Obama.

First, the guy is black and has the middle name of Hussein -- Obama had a much smaller margin of error in this campaign than probably any previous candidate (I dunno, maybe Kennedy and the Catholic thing was of a similar scale). Second, he has built -- or at least had the foresight to hire people who built -- an incredible, nation-wide organization. Third, Obama has shown a tremendous amount of long-term vision and patience. He had a plan during the primaries and didn't deviate from it when things looked bad, nor did he deviate from his many-states strategy when McCain rallied during the Palin/RNC time. Other candidates -- say, a generic Dem like Chris Dodd -- might certainly have panicked and pulled all resources out of Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, etc. and invested entirely in PA, OH, and FL. Obama has greatly expanded the electoral map for the Democrats by patiently building a network all over the country.

In short, Obama made some excellent choices along the way, and I think it would be a mistake to view this as an election that the Republicans lost rather than one Obama won.

Polls close in Virgina in 48 hours....