Friday, October 31, 2008

Northampton Interlude

We're taking off to visit Western Massachusetts for the weekend, so I won't be here agonizing over the latest poll numbers for a few days. Almost certainly a good thing for me, since while I share the same overwhelming confidence in an Obama victory as Ta-Nehisi, I still find myself addicted to flicking from political blog to political blog looking for the latest news and commentary. It'll be good to relax in a New England town that I know nothing about, and basically just come back and vote(finally!). The area of Northampton apparently has a couple of vegan restaurants, including one that serves what sounds like a nice Sunday brunch. There's even a vegan bakery, which is extremely rare (you try and make a cake without eggs). So Anna's pretty excited (it was her idea for how to celebrate her birthday). There also some mountains and trails in the area, and though I don't think we've settled on any particular hike... we're nearly certain to get out on Saturday and do some trekking in the woods, which I will GPS as per usual.

Right now, my electoral prediction remains the same as before. I'm less confident about North Carolina flipping to Obama, but he's still leading there as far as I can tell, so I'll leave it alone until Monday when we'll have our final snapshot of polls.

Oh, and Happy Halloween!

photo of "The Oxbow" by flickr user wallyg used under a Creative Commons license

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Will undecideds break overwhelmingly for McCain?

The assumption that they will, is one of the things that keeps many diehard McCain supporters from jumping out of windows, given the pretty bleak poll numbers at this late stage. Some of you may remember going through this same dance as John Kerry supporters four years ago; convincing yourself that those last few undecided voters were going to get into the booth and decide to kick out the incumbent in large numbers. It was a reasonable theory, with some historical support, but it obviously didn't turn out that way. Despite the fact that this late breaker theory didn't work out so well last time, many(Republican and Democrat alike) think it very well could happen this time... why? Well, I don't know if you've noticed this, but Barack Obama is a black man. A black man with the middle name Hussein... Just sayin'. You'll also notice that many of the undecideds lack a high school education and are uhm... "downscale", as it were.

So anyway, there are some reasons, that nobody is laughing the idea off as desperate straw grabbing by the McCain camp. But what can do other than wait and worry with our fingers crossed?

Enter Charles Franklin at Pollster. He took the Diageo/Hotline tracking poll data from October 3-11 and fit a statistical model to those respondents who had expressed a preference in Presidential candidate. Using such a wide swath of polling means that he could assemble enough data sets of undecided voters to actually do some predictions on these voters. In a typical poll you are only going to have a couple of dozen undecided voters, but by using eight days of a daily tracking poll he was able to examine 267. Pretty good. All of the people who responded to the survey were asked a slew of attitude and demographic questions, beyond just preference for President, so Professor Franklin was able to fit a model to including those characteristics:
...including favorability to Obama and McCain, party id, marital status, kids at home, education, race, age, sex, church attendance, region and urban, suburban or rural residence.

He even included data on the following question:
I'd like you to tell me whether you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree or strongly disagree with the following statement. ... African Americans often use race as an excuse to justify wrongdoing

Which he has seen to have "a statistically significant effect on vote choice, even after controlling for other political attitudes and demographics." Proffesor Franklin wouldn't do this, but let's call that the "unenlightened racial attitutes question."

Now that he had fit this model to the people who picked either Obama or McCain, he could then use the same parameters to predict how undecided voters were going to vote based on their demographics and attitudes. My one quibble with his approach, not seeing a detailed write-up of his methods, is that he didn't divvy up the group he fit his model to into a "training set" and "validation set" - I could then be more certain that his model wasn't over-fit or the fit artefactual, though I don't suspect that is the case. Regardless, what were his findings?
Bottom line: Undecided and refuse to say voters are estimated to break 50% for McCain and 50% for Obama. As even as it gets. There is no evidence here of a large bias towards McCain that is hidden within the undecided respondents.

Finally, what happens if we ignore racial attitude and predict vote among the undecided without it? The split is 52% Obama to 48% McCain. So at most the impact of incorporating racial attitude in the model is a rise of 2% for McCain among undecided. Given the sample sizes involved, that is well within the margin of error. And if we take out candidate favorability from the model we get estimates of 52-48 without racial attitude and 53-47 with racial attitude.

Pretty interesting stuff, and a really nice approach to a tough question. It also highlights one of the reasons pollsters are so excited by all these daily tracking polls... soooooo much data. Professor Franklin and his colleagues should be able to start examining some very interesting issues as they sift through it all.

So, good news for Obama fans, but it's by no means definitive... in the end we will just end up having to wait and see as the votes are counted. Stock up on the pepto.

A Very Special Obama Chistmas

Didn't catch Obama's infomercial, thanks to Anna's lovely birthday dinner described below, but I will eventually watch it. I don't imagine I'll have much insightful to say about it, since I've known who I'm going to vote for for roughly two years. Anyway, here's the video:

Vegan tasting at Upstairs on the Square

For Anna's birthday last night we made our first trip to Upstairs on the Square. Older Cambridge hands will know it better as Upstairs at the Pudding(same owners), though now it's located in the building above Grendel's Den. I had never been to either incarnation, so I was quite intrigued to try it out. Now despite not being a vegan myself, I've complained in the past about the lack of fine dining options for vegans in Boston... it's nice to be able to take your vegan girlfriend out to nice dinners on occasion... but one of the advantageous of the aforementioned lackluster dinner with a pair of vegans was that they told us that fancy-schmansy Upstairs on the Square accommodates vegans happily. Normally our go-to option for a multi-course meal that Anna can enjoy is The Elephant Walk. I absolutely love The Elephant Walk, and their tasting menu is quite reasonably priced (though not cheap by any means), so this is no knock on them... but it's nice to have another option if you want to get really fancy. It's also pretty damn expensive, but the opportunity to get a five course meal with wine pairings that works for a vegan are pretty thin on the grass, and I think we were both kind of excited.

They don't have a specific vegan menu going right now(though they do have seasonal ones), but advertise their ability to adapt. Indeed, if you look at their posted menus for the Soiree Room(the more formal dining room with tasting menus), we got little pieces of each of the regular and vegetarian tasting menus adapted to be vegan. Here were the courses and a few comments, though don't expect anything on the wines since my palate only can express "mmm yummy" or "ick"(they were all yummy though):

Tempura Snap Peas
Avocado, Jicama & Soy Ginger Marinade

2005 Chardonnay, Chateau Laboure-Roi (Burgundy)*
They were served in those Japanese style soup spoons; just a pretty little pile of veggies in a spoon. It wasn't as difficult to eat as you might imagine. It was Anna's favorite dish of the whole meal, and I really loved the soy ginger marinade. Our waiter actually made a mistake though, and gave us the wine pairing for the next course here... we didn't realize it at the time, and frankly I didn't mind since I'm a barbarian when it come to wine, but they did take off the additional price of the tasting.

Roasted Baby Beets
Horseradish Panna Cotta, Passionfruit & Arugula

2004 Martinelli Vineyards Gewurtztraminer (Russian River)
I've always been a bit afraid of beets, from back when I was warring with all vegetables(which ended peaceably in my mid twenties, heh), so I was pretty surprised how delicious they were. The golden and regular beets were quite different in intensity, and the arugula and horseradish worked really well together with their spiciness, while the passion fruit helped keep that from getting out of hand. This course is the one pictured above, though it's not my picture and not my meal, it does appear representative.

Potage of Jerusalem Artichokes
Native Sorrel & Chive Oil

2006 Flora Springs Chardonnay (Napa)
This was my favorite course. It was amazingly creamy for something made without dairy products and had a wonderful flavor that was really complemented by the drizzle of chive oil.

Warm Artichokes & Harricots Verts
Black Truffle Vinaigrette

2004 Westerly Vineyards Merlot (Santa Ynez Valley)
Always a fan of green beans, even the fancy french version. I've never been much for artichokes, but these were perfect. They were very moist and tender, and I had no idea they were artichokes until Anna asked the waiter.

Fall Vegetables
Cardamom Wine Broth, Shitake Mushrooms & Mint

2006 Fleur Pinot Noir (Carneros)
This course was the only one that wasn't super awesome in my opinion. Ther cardamom broth was tremendous, and some of the vegetables were great, but it sort of ended up just being a pile of vegetables. Tasty vegetables, mind you, but it didn't seem quite as inspired as the other courses. Still quite good.

Sorbet and fruit
1993 Icardi Nonu Lino, Moscato (Castiglione, IT)
Not really a dessert guy, but the sorbet was tasty. All things being equal, I'd rather finish up a meal with a cognac or esspreso instead of sorbet and a dessert wine, but it was still nice.

So I think it's safe to say that we were both pretty blown away by the food, and while our waiter did flub our wine tasting a bit, he was very attentive and very apologetic for his mistake, correcting it as best he could without our prompting. I should note that I have seen some complaints about the service online, and I will note that it is clearly not at the L'Espalier level of well oiled machine of fine dining service. They seem to be mainly a bunch of kids who are trying really hard to be extra super nice, but haven't been through the traditional boot camp of Super French Waiter-ness. I'll admit, that when you are spending $50-100 per person, you are expecting something a little more than someone who is "really nice", but the food seemed well worth it to me and the funky theater vibe of the decor mades for a special night out. Your mileage may vary, of course.

picture of the roasted baby beets by flickr user eprescott used under a Creative Commons license

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


As far as I know, Obama hasn't made any other ads using the Palin selection against McCain's judgment... though it's obviously been a commonplace theme in the lefty blogosphere... and the homestretch seems to be the perfect place to run it, because there is no time left to rebut.

It also amazes me how effective it can be with no soundbites... just that ridiculous wink.

About those polls inevitably tightening..

I don't think anybody meant that it would be polls of McCain's Red States that were tightening. Marc Ambinder:
In the battlegrounds, except for in McCain's internal polling, there has been NO appreciable tightening. None. Actually, that's wrong. There's been tightening in red states. Georgia. Montana. North Dakota. South Dakota. Arizona.

Yeah, you read that last one right. It appears that McCain's home state might be in play. Honestly, I can't imagine him losing there, but it's still sort of amusing to think he might have to run ads in Arizona... ludicrous, you say? Well, they're running ads in Montana and West Virginia. I assume they're not huge buys, but Ambinder says it's radio and TV, so who knows?

Anyway, if you're a typical nervous liberal, these are pretty clear signs you shouldn't be sweating an Obama victory too hard right now. Obviously, Obama's infomercial tonight could focus on his love of eating babies, but baring something like that, all signs point to: Yes we can!

Regardless, stop paying attention to the national trackers at this point. Random noise will just give you heartburn. All the information you need to gauge how the election is going to go is based on the state polls that are being released by the dozens daily. Use Pollster for their polling aggregates, and Princeton Election Consortium to keep an eye on how the overall probabilities are working out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Oblivion with Guns

The reviews for Fallout 3 are coming in fast and furious, and they all look tremendously positive. (currently sitting at 93 out of 100 on Metacritic) I probably shouldn't pick it up this week because I don't really have time to play it, and Fable II is sitting in my 360... but the pull is strong.

Dawkins vs. Harry Potter

Author of "The God Delusion", Richard Dawkins, needs to get a grip. Children aren't brought up to believe in We aren't "bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards". Can you imagine how boring life would be if we were taught to never use our imaginations? This is why, though I tend to think Atheists get it more than most, fundamentalists of any stripe are pretty nuts.

UPDATE: Sorry that nonsensical sentence was bugging me.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The 10/27 Prediction

<p><strong>><a href=''>2008 Election Contest: Pick Your President</a></strong> - Predict the winner of the 2008 presidential election.</p>
This is the way I see the electoral votes shaking out at the moment. I'm pretty sure ~350 EV's would be the right total if the election was held today, but I'm not entirely sure which current "tossup" states break where. Basically I used Pollster's map and started from the assumption that any "leaner" states would stay in their respective camps (i.e. McCain won't flip Ohio) and moving the "tossup" states of North Carolina, Florida, and Nevada into Obama's column. Part of me is hoping this is how it shakes out since I'll be able to go to bed much earlier than if Missouri plays a key role. :)

I'll revisit this at the end of the week, since we'll be getting an avalanche of polls in the next few days which should clarify things a great deal.

8 days to go...

...and the insanity will be over? Not bloody likely, assuming Obama wins (fingers crossed). Here's the ever amusing Jon Swift's roundup of what crackpot theories and utter insanity the Wingnut-o-sphere has been up to this election cycle. The highlights go from allegations of gay underage affairs to a lack of US citizenship (that Obama was continuing to cover up this weekend in Hawaii instead of visiting his ailing grandmother). If you want to get some idea of what we are in store for in the event of an Obama presidency, then definitely check out the Jon Swift post so you most effectively can "gird your loins" as Joe Biden would say. Oh, Limbaugh and Savage all picked up on the this stuff too, so don't think you can ignore it by just staying away from the darker corners of the intertubes... and it's only going to get worse.

That said, what's the state of the race? Let's not count our chickens etc. But, fact is... it's looking pretty good for Obama, and while good poll numbers aren't a reason for complacency, it's certainly better than the circular firing squads the opposite engenders.

Our friends at Princeton Election Consortium have it at :

Fairly stable at Obama: 354, McCain: 184 and a margin of Obama +7.84%

538 offers similar numbers (351 to 187), though I believe their model is a projection with some assumptions of poll tightening as opposed to Professor Wang's snapshot.

Anyway, I'm just looking forward to voting... finally.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Live from New York

The return of Will Ferrell:

One of the best things about the internet is that we no longer have to sit through an hour of crap to get the one funny sketch SNL has each week.

Palin in 2012? Yes Please!

It's hard for this Obama supporter to fathom the current growing consensus(more and more) that Palin is positioning herself for a Presidential run in 2012, and is the obvious front runner for the nomination. I mean, I understand that the base luuuuuurves her, but assuming McCain loses, won't a big chuck of the GOP blame the Palin selection? She may have Rush Limbaugh in her corner, but who else? I can't imagine a single Democrat who wouldn't relish Obama running against her in 2012.

It seems to me that Mick Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Jeb Bush are all much, much, much stronger contenders and this point. Huckabee being the one who scares me the most, though I don't know much about Bobby Jindal besides the exorcisms.

Double standard

Take that latte sipping liberal stereotype!

Obama won the 7-11 coffee cup election 60-40. Uhm, yay? But, seriously, who gets coffee at 7-11... I mean, I know they sell it but... ick. Ooops, I mean: See how the hardworking real salt of the Earth Americans who buy 7-11 coffee favor Obama by landslide margins? (And to be honest I've never had a cup of coffee from 7-11, and for all I know it could be awesome and I'm drinking Dunkin Donuts right now so...)

Anyway, this informal poll has been strangely accurate in the past... they showed a 1% win by Bush in 2000 and a 51-49 Bush victory in 2004... though somehow I think they may off by a few points this time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Fantasy Football President

I think the general rule is that the only person who likes hearing about your fantasy football team is you... but I suppose that rule doesn't apply to Presidential candidates, as this is a pretty fun little article.
"Now, you're the expert," he began. "And I'll gladly be the junior partner in this, but I really think we should take Drew Brees. He could have a big week. Oakland's secondary is a wreck."

Ohhhh, so that's how it's going to be. "Well, I like Carson Palmer," I said. "He's due for a big week, plus he plays in Ohio and I figure that's a state you need, so …"

He looked at me like I'd stuck my elbow in his soup. "Man, this is more important than politics!" he insisted. "This is football!"

This is a man who could potentially audit me forever. We paid $7.3M for Brees.

He wanted Clinton Portis. I wanted Adrian Peterson. We took Portis ($6.6M). He wanted Brandon Marshall. I wanted Bernard Berrian. We took Marshall ($5.7M).

Fable II Impressions

Politics is pretty boring today, so I'll throw out some impressions of Fable II, which I purchased on Tuesday. This is actually the first full length 360 game I've bought since Grand Theft Auto IV. I've bought a bunch of things off of LIVE, but haven't been to Best Buy for a game in a while.

Basically, Fable II is an action RPG with strong morality component... the decisions you make on how to solve quests change the world and even effect your appearance(you start to look more angelic/demonic based on your actions). You can be anything from a goody two shoes to a sociopathic mass murdering sacker of towns, and still beat the game. You get a dog who follows you around faithfully (no matter how much of a jerk you are to him) and points out treasure and helps in fights... you can get married, have kids, get divorced, have a different family in every town, and catch venerial diseases... what's not to like?

I've only played for maybe 8 hours, probably less, so my impressions are limited... but I've played to the point where you get your first follower and the game opens up a bit. So far it is quite enjoyable and fun, though probably on the easy side... but that's good news for any more casual gamer trying to get into it. The stats/ability side of the RPG equation is pretty simle as well... there really isn't a whole lot to do as far as customizing your abilities, but Fallout 3 is out next week, so who cares? The combat is pretty fun, and while not challenging, it is very satisfying if you enjoy kicking ass in creative ways... which the game rewards you for with additional experience. As you gain said experience you improve your three abilities, which opens up new combat options that gradually increase the depth of the fighting experience.

My experience so far has been playing as a goody-goody young lady hero, who got herself some pigtails and a tattoo to make herself more comely(clothes, hairstyles, and tatts all have different bonuses that can make you pretty or scary). She recently got married and squeezed out a baby Hero named Anne, but hubby is complaining about how cramped the gypsy wagon is now and wants an upgrade... of course the lazy bastard lays around the camp all day while she's out saving the world, but whacha gonna do? Go chop some wood or work at the blacksmith for some cash(simple mini games), that's what.. I was hoping to buy a new gun, but... sigh. Maybe if I use the money to buy that pie seller's wagon, I can get a good income stream coming in...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What, you think you can just roll out of bed and be a hockey mom/everywoman?

RNC pays 150K to outfit Palin and her family

I don't even really care, to be honest... though obviously it doesn't mesh with her message... I bet Obama's and McCain's suits cost a mint (though I doubt they buy them on donor money), and image is everything... but according to Marc Ambinder, some RNC staffers are outraged. They do after all have some Senate races that money could probably go a little farther in.

So anyway, this is your class warfare of the day. If you watch cable news I expect you'll be hearing a lot more about it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


As my girlfriend drives a MINI, this caught my attention:
The BMW Group will be the world’s first manufacturer of premium automobiles to deploy a fleet of some 500 all-electric vehicles for private use in daily traffic. The MINI E will be powered by a 150 kW (204 hp) electric motor fed by a high-performance rechargeable lithium-ion battery, transferring its power to the front wheels via a single-stage helical gearbox nearly without a sound and entirely free of emissions. Specially engineered for automobile use, the battery technology will have a range of more than 240 kilometers, or 150 miles.

Sadly, her chances of field testing one for a year were given a blow by this:
The MINI E will initially be made available to select private and corporate customers as part of a pilot project in the US states of California, New York and New Jersey.

Check the link for (much)greater detail on the specifics, but it doesn't look like they have announced any greater plans then this field test.

Jon Stewart on "Real America"

And in summary:

Negative campaigning... ur doin it wrong

I'm not sure, but when you spend all your time tearing down your opponent... aren't their "favorables" supposed to go down?
...the percentage of those who hold a favorable opinion of Mr. Obama is up 10 points since last month.Opinion of Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Obama’s running mate, is also up, to 50 percent last weekend from 36 percent in September.

In contrast, favorable opinion of Mr. McCain remained stable, and unfavorable opinion rose to 45 percent now from 35 percent in September. Mrs. Palin’s negatives are up, to 41 percent now from 29 percent in September.

Mr. Obama’s favorability is the highest for a presidential candidate running for a first term in the last 28 years of Times/CBS polls. Mrs. Palin’s negative rating is the highest for a vice-presidential candidate as measured by The Times and CBS News. Even Dan Quayle, with whom Mrs. Palin is often compared because of her age and inexperience on the national scene, was not viewed as negatively in the 1988 campaign.

But hey, I'm sure this calling him a socialist will work. That's GOLD.

Monday, October 20, 2008

What did I miss?

Aside from the Red Sox staving off elimination for two straight games... coming back from 7 runs down in game 5... only to lose in game 7, that is?

Obama raised an eye-popping $150 million in September, which explains why he can afford to have his own prime time special. What's particularly striking about that number is that is was accomplished with the average donation being under $100.

In addition, Colin Powell came out on Sunday and endorsed Obama on Meet the Press. I'm not sure what it means at this point, with a little over two weeks to go, but Powell is still widely respected by the electorate... and, as a Republican, helps blunt the pinko-commie charges. Of course, you do then have to deal with people like Limbaugh calling Powell a racist. Though the more time the GOP keeps the Powell endorsement in the news, the better it is for Obama. Here's the vid:

As far as the polls. On the national level, they appear to have leveled off or even narrowed over the past week:

A 5 or 6 point lead with 7% undecided and two weeks to go is a pretty good place to be, though it will certainly get tighter as we get closer... the key is that Obama doesn't need to convince that high a percentage of the undecideds to get safely over 50%.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Head of the Charles Weekend

You know, I've spent 4 years in college in Boston, and 8 out of the 10 years following(if I'm counting right)... and I've never been to the Head of the Charles Regatta? Kind of weird, and I'm not really sure how it's happened... but I think I end up out of town or just oblivious until it's like "why are all these people here?"... at this point, though, I'm sort of inclined to keep my streak going. However, perhaps if we're in the mood for a walk on Saturday or Sunday we can stroll down to Harvard Square and catch a bit of it. It might be nice to play tourist with Anna home for the weekend.

This little pictorial guide from was fairly helpful in understanding how it works. Biggest in the world... expecting 300K spectators... yadda yadda. What surprised me is that the rowers are going against the clock, not each other, so you just see them zip by one at a time... which seems a little less exciting from a spectator point of view. I was sort of hoping they might smash each others' oars and have boarding parties and the like... oh well. I was also surprised to see it's more focused on the Cambridge side of the river and starts near Harvard Square... I would have thought getting people on the Esplanade would be what they want... but I suppose it makes visiting it convenient for us. Though that also suggests if we aren't interested in seeing any of it we shouldn't go anywhere near Harvard Square.

photo used under a Creative Commons license by flickr user jaj

Depression Economics

Now, as I've mentioned many times before, I have very little knowledge of economics... but Paul Krugman just won a Nobel for his own and has a recent column making an indirect, yet scathing, attack on McCain's "Spending Freeze" proposal. For those not aware of it, McCain has been saying for the last couple weeks that we should cut non-defense discretionary funding that isn't "essential" because of the financial mess we are in. I guess, on it's face, this might make some sense... during what might be a long and painful recession the government is going to be having significantly less revenue coming in to the Federal coffers, so why shouldn't it tighten its belt, as it were? After all, if you took a pay cut or lost your job, you wouldn't go out and buy a boat... so why won't Obama and McCain say they will scale back their domestic agendas? The D.C. press corps is livid that they won't be "honest" about the financial realities of our situation. It seems only McCain is even considering making significant cuts with his Spending Freeze... though he still wants to give $800 billion in tax cuts to the rich first.

Well, like I said up front: I don't know much about economics, but I do know who Herbert Hoover and John Maynard Keynes were... and from what I understand, freezing spending would be pretty much the opposite of what you want to do... but don't take my word for it:
It’s now clear that rescuing the banks is just the beginning: the nonfinancial economy is also in desperate need of help.

And to provide that help, we’re going to have to put some prejudices aside. It’s politically fashionable to rant against government spending and demand fiscal responsibility. But right now, increased government spending is just what the doctor ordered, and concerns about the budget deficit should be put on hold.

As he goes on to state, with the busting of the tech bubble it was the Federal Reserve who mainly responded and their efforts were mainly ineffective until we found ourselves a new bubble. So with interest rates already quite low and no other bubble in sight, it's up to the government to:
...provide extended benefits to the unemployed, which will both help distressed families cope and put money in the hands of people likely to spend it. It can provide emergency aid to state and local governments, so that they aren’t forced into steep spending cuts that both degrade public services and destroy jobs. It can buy up mortgages (but not at face value, as John McCain has proposed) and restructure the terms to help families stay in their homes.

And this is also a good time to engage in some serious infrastructure spending, which the country badly needs in any case. The usual argument against public works as economic stimulus is that they take too long: by the time you get around to repairing that bridge and upgrading that rail line, the slump is over and the stimulus isn’t needed. Well, that argument has no force now, since the chances that this slump will be over anytime soon are virtually nil. So let’s get those projects rolling.

Besides being solid Keynesian economics, it just makes sense to be working even harder to protect vulnerable citizens in tough economic times. After all, when would you be worried the most about your health care... when you just got a raise, or when you think you're going to get laid off?

Why Voting Matters

via John Cole

Makes me feel pretty lame for being annoyed at all the extra work I had to pitch in on the giant grant that my boss's boss just submitted to the Department of Defense for research on traumatic brain injury.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Building heights and New Urbanism

Some interesting posts from DCist, Ryan Avent, and Ezra Klein on the issues related to Washington D.C.'s limit on the height of buildings(no new building can be more than 20 feet taller than the width of the street it is on).

DCist merely asks the question "should the limits be eliminated", Ryan wants the costs of a height limit properly factored in, while Ezra mainly proclaims how stupid the restrictions are. I'm somewhat ambivalent overall because I'm not particularly well informed on how all various zoning regulations and building codes interact with economics and whatnot... but I think Ezra is conflating a number of things in his complaint.
...the inability to build up means sprawl. It means high rents, and long commutes. It means bad restaurants and fewer grocers. It means that cool cafes don't have the density to support themselves and so everything is a Cosi or an Au Bon Pain. It means that your friends live farther away, and your apartment is smaller than it needs to be. It means that people who don't make much money get pushed very far from where they wish to be.

This kind of thinking is why everybody thinks we want to make them live in 400 square foot apartments in Manhattan whenever we say "sustainable community". Cambridge, the city I live in, has a population density of nearly 16K/square mile and has very few tall buildings(no restriction though, as far as I know), and is one of the most walkable communities in the US. Now, of course my rent is high, my apartment is small, and many of my friends have moved outside the city to roomier and cheaper environs. However, isn't that the case with pretty much every cool neighborhood you've ever heard of? I would argue that instead of ripping up these neighborhoods to try to make them into the mini-Upper East Sides (which isn't a cheap place to live!), you should be building more cool neighborhoods (while hopefully tearing down sprawl). That's not to say they have to be as dense as Cambridge either... New Urbanism doesn't require everyone to live in an apartment... it just requires better designed communities.

picture used under a Creative Commons license by flickr user ZigZagLens

That was fast

via Ta-Nehisi Coates

A counterattack to McCain's most effective line of the night that utilizes Creepy McCain Faces. I approve.

Term of the Debate: Body Language

I tuned into this one a little late, and spent only half the time watching the CNN feed online (the other half was listening while checking various live-blogs). I expected it to be a rehashing of all the same old talking points(and found myself muting the answers at first), but the format was much better(sitting around a table) and forced them to interact more, and Schieffer was a good moderator... it was still filled with buzzwords and "Joe the Plumber", but it seemed that they were actually debating, for the most part. Which was a switch.

As far as how it went: the "snap" polls already tell you it was a disaster for McCain and focus groups were apparently laughing at him. However, if you look around the intertubes you'll see a lot of people saying it was McCain's "best debate performance", which is probably true... he kept Obama on the defensive and off topic a fair amount... but he got smoked overall because he spent the entire debate making weird, angry, and contemptuous faces and gestures while Obama was speaking, and it's all about the visuals:

It may seem trivial but, once again, the fact that McCain is a angry old man is your take home message.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Final Debate

Tonight's the night... at 9 p.m. EST from Hofstra University, McCain embarks on his final chance to have a game-changer on national TV. Duhn-Duhn-Duhn!

Does anybody really believe there is anything John McCain can say or do to fundamentally change the course of the race at this point? I mean, unless it turns out that he's secretly Aquaman.

Apparently he has virtually guaranteed he'll bring up the Ayers nonsense at the debate tonight... which while being a really terrible idea that seems unlikely to go over well... it should at least be entertaining if it happens.

At this point I'm not planning on live-blogging or even watching, unless the WoW patch isn't finished downloading or servers are down... I'll probably turn on NPR though, to make sure I don't miss any CrAzY!! I expect to be disappointed by another bland recitation of talking points, however.

WoW: 3.0.2 Patch

This is a pretty huge patch for World of Warcraft in advance of the release of Wrath of the Lich King (November 11th13th) that has got me a little excited for WoW again. Anna and I are some of the most casual players in existence (I still don't have even a level 50 character in several years of subscribing), so the expansion itself doesn't mean much to us right now... but what's nice is that Blizzard upgraded/changed tons of things about the general play experience that you get access to, even without buying the expansion.

Things like:

  • A barber shop to change your appearance

  • XBOX 360-style Achievements

  • A new profession: Inscription

  • A new calendar feature showing you all the holidays and your guild events, etc.

  • New 51 point talents and re-balancing of every class

Nothing earth-shattering really, but a good reason to get back into it and see what's going on.

Are Nature articles most likely to be wrong?

As someone who will never, ever, be published in such a highly regarded journal... I'd probably like to think that only flashy garbage gets published there... as an epidemiological study described in the Economist asserts.
It starts with the nuts and bolts of scientific publishing. Hundreds of thousands of scientific researchers are hired, promoted and funded according not only to how much work they produce, but also to where it gets published. For many, the ultimate accolade is to appear in a journal like Nature or Science. Such publications boast that they are very selective, turning down the vast majority of papers that are submitted to them.

The assumption is that, as a result, such journals publish only the best scientific work. But Dr Ioannidis and his colleagues argue that the reputations of the journals are pumped up by an artificial scarcity of the kind that keeps diamonds expensive. And such a scarcity, they suggest, can make it more likely that the leading journals will publish dramatic, but what may ultimately turn out to be incorrect, research.

Dr Ioannidis based his earlier argument about incorrect research partly on a study of 49 papers in leading journals that had been cited by more than 1,000 other scientists. They were, in other words, well-regarded research. But he found that, within only a few years, almost a third of the papers had been refuted by other studies. For the idea of the winner’s curse to hold, papers published in less-well-known journals should be more reliable; but that has not yet been established.

Now, I haven't read the article in question, but I see a lot of problems from what's described here. First, what exactly does "refuted" mean? I certainly think there is a lot of garbage out there and ridiculous conclusions drawn from meagre results... but 1/3 of big deal studies "refuted"? I'm not sure I buy that, unless the definition is very specific and narrow. I may indeed have to check this article out to see their definition, but I have a hard time believing that some super hot article comes out that everybody cites a million times and then a couple of years later they think it's bogus. I find it more likely that high profile fields that can get into Science/Nature are more likely to be contentious and researchers are more likely to be involved in back and forths that go on for years... it certainly strikes me as plausible that in a hot area, people will argue about the interpretations of data constantly (we certainly do), but I don't imagine the data themselves are often called in to question... which is what I would consider "refutation". I've always been taught that you read the Methods and Results sections and draw your own conclusions, since the Discussion is often, yes, complete BS.

The second problem I have is that work published in "less-well-known journals" might not ever get "refuted" because nobody cares enough to bother. Though I suppose you could get around that aspect by making sure they were heavily cited, despite the fact that they are in lower rep journals... though that raises other problems with selection bias, I think.

Though, I will say that I've long believed the scientific publishing is an area tons of systemic flaws, so it's nice to see that somebody is really concerned with examining it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Should it have been Lieberman?

A Bush strategist seems to think so:
"They didn't let John McCain pick the person he wanted to pick as VP," Dowd declared during the Time Warner Summit panel. "When Sarah Palin got picked instead of Joe Lieberman, which I fundamentally believed would have given John McCain the best opportunity in this race... as soon as he picked Palin, that whole ready versus not ready argument was not credible."

Saying that Palin was a "net negative" on the ticket, he went on: "[McCain] knows, in his gut, that he put somebody unqualified on the ballot. He knows that in his gut, and when this race is over that is something he will have to live with... He put somebody unqualified on that ballot and he put the country at risk, he knows that.

(Not quite)hindsight being 20/20 and all(I mean, she was clearly inexperienced, but I don't know if anybody could have predicted what a disaster she would turn into)... but since Lieberman was also my pick for best McCain VP candidate, Dowd's assertion happens to be 100% true and accurate.

I still don't have any grasp on how the base would have reacted to a Pro-Choice VP, but them being fired up about Palin right now doesn't seem to be doing a whole lot of good things for McCain.

Time for an Iceland vacation?

Matt Yglesias is a bit worried about what's going to happen to Iceland, which has been hit the hardest of any country during our Global Financial Mess, and still appears to be in a death spiral.

I've always wanted to visit the country, so maybe now is a good time when they're desperate for non-Icelandic currency? It feels a little bit like your taking advantage of somebody who's fallen on hard times, but they need it right?

Maybe once these grants go in that have been cutting into my blogging time(gasp!), Anna and I can consider a long weekend trip there... as long as it's not the Road Warrior on Ice by then. I've heard it's a pretty short and reasonably priced flight from here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Politics of Food, continued

via Ezra Klein

I see that the New York Times Magazine this past weekend was all about food, sustainability, and the politics of it. With articles from my two favorite food writers out there, Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman.

I think I'm going to be too busy today to read these thoroughly and comment, but I thought I would flag them if anybody is interested... also, the New York Times Magazine link has a picture of some exploding corn, so you might want to check that out.

Flying Moose Mountain Hike

Here is the other hike Anna and I did from our long weekend in Maine. This is from a nature conservatory(Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust to be specific) pretty close to her family's house, which made it convenient for a quick morning hike. The trails were really wide and well marked (though we still did manage to miss the trail head, heh) and seemed pretty suited to mountain biking and the like. Because of the size of the trails (as wide as a road) it felt more like a place to get exercise around nature, but not really a place to get immersed in it, if you get my meaning.

Anyway, here is the EveryTrail widget with some pics:

Flying Moose Mountain

Widget powered by EveryTrail: GPS Geotagging

Blogger wins Nobel Prize

I don't think he won for blogging though... nor for being a liberal economist... but hey, gratz to Paul Krugman.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Marriage Equality in Connecticut

via Andrew Sullivan
A divided Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in Connecticut.

The court ruled 4-3 Friday that gay and lesbian couples cannot be denied the freedom to marry under the state constitution, and Connecticut's civil unions law does not provide those couples with the same rights as heterosexual couples.

We three states under control, it might be time to kick Operation Subvert Heterosexuality into second gear.

Alaska Governor exonerates Palin in "Troopergate" report

Executive power with no accountability; that's the change we need! The best part? They blame it all on a blogger:

The campaign's report instead blames former campaign opponent, Andrew Halcro, who has a blog, of conspiring with Wooten to pin Monegan's dismissal on the family's dispute with Wooten. Three days after Monegan was fired, they say, Wooten told his ex-wife, Palin's sister, that: "You guys are going down. Get ready for the show."

Two days after that confrontation, they say, Halcro and Wooten met at a hotel bar in Anchorage for more than three hours — and that evening, Halcro posted the first accusations on his blog that Monegan had been fired because of a vendetta against Wooten by the Palin family.

"It is tragic that a false story hatched by a blogger after drinks with Trooper Wooten led the legislature to allocate over $100,000 of public money to be spent in what has become a politically driven investigation," the 21-page report concludes.

The real report from the legislature is expected some time today.

Weekend Cooking Plan: Poulet en cocotte

Or... "chicken in a pot", but that doesn't sound very exotic now does it? The recipe is another Cook's Illustrated one that I happen to have in their International cookbook. I've made it before, but never blogged it, and that basically fits my mood... it's a fairly simple recipe that is both delicious and unique. The basic idea is "casserole roasting", which is very popular in France (or so they tell me) and virtually unknown on this side of the Atlantic... the bird goes into an oven safe pot with aromatics, you pop on the lid, and cook it at low temperature for an hour or so. You don't get crisp skin, but you do get supper moist meat, and you get it fast.

The ingredient list is thus:

4.5-5lb chicken
2 large shallots, halved and sliced thin
6 garlic cloves, peeled and trimmed
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter in two pieces, chilled

So, pretty easy right?  You're only putting the shallots and garlic in with a chicken, and using the rest to make a sauce/gravy from the chicken drippings.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Drugs are BAD, but Joy Division is GOOD

I really love how the audience is at a loss. Just a big "WTF!?"

All your banks are belong to U.S.

The latest news out of the bailout/rescue plan is that the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve might be planning on embarking on the Swedish Plan. Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman have both argued for some kind of recapitalization of banks by taking an equity stake since the beginning of the financial crisis... saying that buying off bad assets was not going to staunch the bleeding... what they need is some money, and what taxpayers need is some equity. I am, of course, not qualified to judge whether this is really the right way to go, but it sounds right to me.
The proposal resembles one announced on Wednesday in Britain. Under that plan, the British government would offer banks like the Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and HSBC Holdings up to $87 billion to shore up their capital in exchange for preference shares. It also would provide a guarantee of about $430 billion to help banks refinance debt.

The American recapitalization plan, officials say, has emerged as one of the most favored new options being discussed in Washington and on Wall Street. The appeal is that it would directly address the worries that banks have about lending to one another and to other customers.

Of course, the devil is in the details, and said details are sketchy at best... but this sounds like a promising use of that $700 billion, since I've always wanted to own a bank. Do you think I should buy a new suit?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Take home message of the debate:

Expect to see this clip a lot.

Otherwise it was pretty boring, and the format was terrible. It was like Brokaw was herding cats trying to keep them on time. I'd say Obama won pretty easily, but I've got some hardcore partisan blinders, so I'll wait for the post debate polls.

UPDATE: Looks like the snap polls broke strongly for Obama. That is not good news for McCain. Noam Scheiber has the best take I've seen so far:
McCain faced a tough choice coming into this debate: He could make a dramatic move, which might help close the gap but could also reinforce his unsteadiness. Or he could try to look mature and reassuring, which might ease his perception problem but wouldn't instantly affect the polls. Tonight McCain pulled off an impressive feat: He managed to do nothing particularly dramatic, yet still give the impression that he's old and unsteady. I see very little for him to build on.

I predicted that he wouldn't get nasty in the debate, so that didn't surprise me, but I expected him to be a lot more gracious and assured in a format that was supposed to be his strength... but instead he just seemed old and irritated... you kind of wonder whether he realizes the election is over at this point, and finally admitted it to himself last night.

The Town Hall Debate

I'm going to watch this one, but I'm predicting a snooze fest, not the knife fight that some others are. The format stinks... no follow up by either the questioner or the moderator, plus the fact that the candidates aren't supposed to ask each other direct questions, means this "debate" is likely to be a series of vague answers that quickly segue into talking points. Now, word on the street is that Brokaw is having nothing to do with the "no follow up" deal, but I'm not holding my breath. Both campaigns have been more negative lately, but I'm having trouble seeing how either could make that work in this format... especially the Ayers/Wright stuff, since it doesn't relate to any issue currently facing Americans. I certainly agree with everyone who says McCain needs something dramatic here, but I also agree that it's a Catch-22: the worst thing for McCain is for voters to think of him as a "erratic old coot", but anything he does tonight that is vicious and dramatic enough to close the gap with Obama... is likely to reinforce the erratic old coot meme.

I tend to think McCain's camp isn't quite foolish enough to go all kamikaze when the debate format and growing media narrative are all set up to make that play desperate and self-destructive... but I'll be watching, just in case. He is a maverick after all.

Abandoning Firefox for Opera

As of today, I'm switching to Opera.

Since 3.0 I've had no end of problems with Firefox... endless issues with Flash and YouTube, and it's just become too much of a PITA to wait for them to fix it or try to figure out what setting or extension might be screwing everything up. A browser is supposed to be easy, and Firefox has become more and more annoying while becoming slower and more bloated with every release.

I'm not sure how much I really dig Opera, but it's passed every test that Firefox has failed, so it's my browser of choice until we see a final release version of Chrome.

UPDATE: The lack of a native "spell check while you type" feature might be a killer. I've tried the native Opera one and Ospell, and both kind of suck. Too bad Chrome won't run on this ancient Windows 2000 machine I have here at work.

More GPS Hiking in Acadia

This was a pretty short hike (less than 2 miles) in the portion of Acadia National Park that you need to pay to enter. It's got some steep sections, so it'll still get your heart rate up, but because of it's short length I'd be inclined to call it a moderate hike. On a pretty fall day in early October, there were plenty of other hikers on the trail, so I wouldn't count on much seclusion on this hike, especially if you are doing it in July or August. It's a very pretty hike, that gets you up to some nice views of Sand Beach and the surrounding water.

We took the Gorham Mountain trail on the ascent and the Cadillac Cliffs trail on the descent, but I would advise doing the opposite. The trail doesn't present much difficulties, but I suspect the old rock slide at one end of Cadillac Cliffs would be much more fun to climb up than it was to climb down.

Anyway, it was a pretty fun hike, and while short, it might be the perfect hike on a day you want to spend most of your time in Bar Harbor or whatever... but still want to get a couple of hours of hiking in without getting too sweaty.

Gorham Mountain/Cadillac Cliffs

Widget powered by EveryTrail: GPS Geotagging

As an aside, this last trip has made me start thinking about getting a hand held GPS unit for hiking, and just using my Forerunner for running... but I'm not sure I want to spend the money.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Is John McCain a crypto-Democrat?

The Wall Street Journal reports:
John McCain would pay for his health plan with major reductions to Medicare and Medicaid, a top aide said, in a move that independent analysts estimate could result in cuts of $1.3 trillion over 10 years to the government programs.

I guess the McCain campaign is pulling out of Florida? Not to put too fine a point on it, but proposing cuts Medicare and Medicaid in an election year is COMPLETELY INSANE.

This can't be true... it really can't. As Chait says, even 1984 era Reagan would have gotten trounced for suggesting such a thing.

I understand that the McCain camp loves the Hail Mary pass, but that's a Hail Mary thrown towards the wrong end zone. Jeebus.

I presume we'll be getting a repudiation and Douglas Holtz-Eakin resignation shortly.

Keating Five Time

So I had a blissful weekend away from politics in Maine. We hiked (more on that later), I watched a lot of Food Network(we don't have TV in our Cambridge apartment, and cooking shows are the only thing I miss), and though I saw some clips from the VP debate and watched the coverage of the "financial rescue" plan's passage... I've been largely out of the loop.

In the last three days my inbox has been flooded with Obama/Biden e-mails... not unusual, and mostly uninteresting pleas for money... only the one announcing an impending assault on McCain's role in the Keating Five stood out. The e-mail announces an upcoming 13 minute documentary(available 12 EST), as well as a website. It states the following:
During the savings and loan crisis of the late '80s and early '90s, McCain's political favors and aggressive support for deregulation put him at the center of the fall of Lincoln Savings and Loan, one of the largest in the country. More than 23,000 investors lost their savings. Overall, the savings and loan crisis required the federal government to bail out the savings of hundreds of thousands of families and ultimately cost American taxpayers $124 billion.

Sound familiar?

In that crisis, John McCain and his political patron, Charles Keating, played central roles that ultimately landed Keating in jail for fraud and McCain in front of the Senate Ethics Committee. The McCain campaign has tried to avoid talking about the scandal, but with so many parallels to the current crisis, McCain's Keating history is relevant and voters deserve to know the facts -- and see for themselves the pattern of poor judgment by John McCain.

And here is the preview:

Pretty interesting. If you would have asked me this summer how much role the Keating Five would play in this election, I probably would have said "none"... it was a long time ago, he was contrite, his role was relatively minor, and the media has given him a pass... so any attempt use it would have been angrily brushed aside by his "base". However, that was before he pissed off or disappointed everyone reporter and pundit in the country. It was also before he decided to turn to full blown character assassination as his only hope for November. Most importantly, it was before the $700 billion dollar rescue of the financial sector... which shares more than a few similarities to the S&L bailout that was at the heart of the Keating Five scandal.

How effective will it be? Hard to say... but it seems to me that it's a lot more relevant to Americans today than sitting on the same board as Bill Ayers. We'll see.

UPDATE: Jason Zengerle at TNR makes a fair point about how this might not have been the best time to play the Keating card. As someone who has generally argued against attacks from Obama, even when other Dems were jumping off bridges because of his perceived passivity, I have to concede that being the Adult vs. Petulant Children has been one of his greatest strengths this whole campaign. Indeed, it may have been better to continue to play the high minded statesman than to strike back with the Keating deal... I can see how it might have made more sense to wait until after the debate, and after the McCain=Sleaze meme had fully taken hold. Interesting.

UPDATE II: The only thing I wonder about timing was whether this was designed to get inside McCain's head before the debate/town hall... I mean, this has got to REALLY piss him off.

Slow Roasting Tomatoes

Ezra Klein has a good recipe up for the process of slow roasting tomatoes. What's most interesting about it is that it uses canned tomatoes, which I've never seen... and provides an interesting culinary opportunity in the winter months. We're currently in the process of slow roasting our own tomatoes... small cherry ones from Anna's family house up in Maine. I use Alton Brown's recipe, which involves a much lower oven temp (170-200), a longer roasting period (8 hours for plum tomatoes - the cherry ones only take 3-4), probably some more salt and sugar and less oil, and fresh thyme instead of dried oregano. (I'll add the full recipe once I have access to the book)

The tomatoes themselves are awesome, and are great on bread or whatever, but also make a fantastic soup (and presumably a great sauce too). We're going to make that soup this week or next, so I'll be sure to blog it.

It's a great thing to do to excess garden tomatoes (not bigger than plum though) because they last for at least a month in the fridge and can easily be frozen for ages.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Off to Maine

Anna and I are headed up to Maine for the weekend tonight for some hiking amongst the foliage... and a brief respite from what has been a rather stressful fall (it's NIH grant season, and our lab has several going out).

I won't watch or listen to the VP debate, nor will I be posting until Sunday or Monday, but, alas, I probably won't be able to ignore the news. Hopefully Biden doesn't self-destruct and the bailout rescue passes the House.

I hope to be back with some GPSed hikes and some keen and penetrating insights... though I think only the former is a safe bet.

VP Debate Prediction

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Senate votes on bailout "Economic Stabilization" today

Other than the Obama/McCain endorsed increase in FDIC insurance and a few cleverly tacked on bits to allow the Senate to pretend not to be originating a revenue bill and make it more palatable to the House GOP, the essence is unchanged for the bill that failed in the House. Apparently they're using a mental health bill that passed the House years ago, but was never acted on by the Senate as the workaround vehicle. They're also adding in a few popular tax cut extensions that had already passed the Senate but had problems in the House with Blue Dog Democrats... supposedly this might cost Pelosi those Blue Dogs, but it will gain enough GOPers to pass in the House. Heard that one before, but hey.

It'll also need 60 to pass in the Senate, but they're optimistic... guessing they'll still wait until markets close this time to actually vote. Obama, Biden, and McCain will all be in DC to vote for it.