The View from Weehawken

I’ve posted a small selections of pictures I’ve taken of Manhattan from my bedroom window here in Weehawken. It sure is a great view!

Cruise ship in port, NYC, from Weehawken, NJ

Cruise ship departing NYC, from Weehawken, NJ

Three cruise ships and USS Nassau in port, NYC, from Weehawken, NJ

Empire State Building at night, NYC, from Weehawken, NJ

July 4th fireworks (2008/7/4), NYC, from Weehawken, NJ

Early evening rainstorm clearing, NYC, from Weehawken, NJ

Sunset reflecting on Manhattan skyscrapers, from Weehawken, NJ

Too Dumb to Vote

From the LA Times article on Prop. 8 (as of 2:08am Wednesday morning):

Amy Mora, a 26-year-old teacher, came with her mother to a polling place in Lynwood on Tuesday morning. She said she believes gay people have the right to marry one another. But she said she voted in favor of Proposition 8 because she does not believe students should be taught that gay marriage is acceptable.

In a rational world, the only correct response to such a belief would be:

Congratulations, Amy Mora! You have forfeited your right to vote. Ever.

My Predictions for the Election

I have two scenarios in my head, the “Obama wins by not much” and the “Obama by a landslide.”

In the first scenario, I’d see Kerry states (252) plus Iowa (7), New Mexico (5), Colorado (9), Nevada (5) and Virginia (13), for a total of 291. Likely he’ll get one or more of Missouri, North Carolina and Florida, which could add 11, 15 or 27, respectively (for a total of 302, 306 or 318. Ohio I also see as a tossup, which would add 20 or not (322, 326 or 338). So, most likely I think the results will be about 330 electoral votes in this scenario. Popular vote would be 52/46/2. In this scenario, Senate would get the three safe takeovers (Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico) plus Alaska, Oregon and New Hampshire. North Carolina is a toss-up, so it’s either 6 or 7 pickups. In regard to house seats, I see pickups in this scenario of 20-25.

For the landslide scenario, I see popular vote of 58/40/2, and the electoral map giving every state mentioned above (364) to Obama, plus Indiana (11), North Dakota (3) and Montana (3) for a total of 381. If it’s a really big landslide, I’d say Alaska (3) will go (the latest poll puts it a few points difference between Obama/McCain), along with Arizona (5), South Dakota (3), Mississippi (6) and West Virginia (5) for 408. For the Senate, I then see all the Dem pickups winning, which would mean that Dole and Coleman both lose, plus McConnell in KY, Chambliss in GA and Wicker in MS, which gives you 10 pickups in the Senate. In that scenario, I’d see 40-50 pickups in the House (just a wild guess, as I don’t even know if that’s possible).

So, my two scenarios:

  Pessimistic Landslide
Pop. Vote 52/46/2 58/40/2
EV 322-38 408
Senate 6-7 10
House 25-30 49-50

I would be surprised to see more than one aspect of the optimistic scenario come true, but not surprised it one of them comes close, though the higher the popular vote total, the more likely it becomes. I expect something in between the two scenarios, but probably closer to the pessimistic than the optimistic.

What Economic Slowdown?

I took advantage of the nice warm weather yesterday afternoon/evening to run some errands. I went via PATH train to Christopher Street to pick up some, ahem, adult supplies, and then on the way back stopped at Pavonia/Newport to go to Home Depot to pick up some light bulbs (long overdue).

Now, yes, it was Halloween. Yes, it was a Friday. Yes, it was nice and warm. But what I saw was swarms of people on their way to the Halloween Parade in the Village, and a mall swarming with people who appeared to be shopping (they were going in and out of the shops, not just wandering through the mall, like I was). Home Depot wasn’t so busy, but it rarely is.

On another note, pace Matthew Yglesias, somebody really wasn’t planning very well when they designed the area around the mall. Yes, it’s right next to the Holland Tunnel, which is an obvious epicenter of car culture, but the walk from the light rail station (or from the PATH station) to Home Depot is fraught with perils, especially crossing the wide street that is the entrance to the tool booths for the tunnel. And then the Home Depot itself! Ack! Designed entirely for drive-up customers, with no consideration whatsoever for pedestrians.

Worse still was a place on the sidewalk I encountered on the way back. The sign that had the button attached for requesting the walk light was placed directly across the sidewalk, blocking it, so that if you wanted to walk past the sign (90 degrees from the direction you’d be crossing the street), you had to step INTO THE STREET!

Small Donors

The media is once again exhibiting its ignorance in reporting the story of the Republicans alleging that Obama’s campaign is not reporting small donors’ identities. They don’t understand the difference between reporting requirements and the data that gets collected about donors.

I have been doing database application programming for a political fundraising organization since 2000, and the fact is that even though they are not required to *report* donors under $200, they still *track* all the donations and have all the information. This means that if someone donates $100 three times, there will be a record for that person with three contributions attached. The campaign will know that this person has donated $300 total even though no single campaign filing will reveal the identity of this donor.

The reason why is that campaigns have to track all donations from all donors to be sure that the donors don’t exceed the contribution limits. In other words, if someone gives $100 and then tries to write a check for $2300, it will have to be rejected (and the campaign would ask for a check for $2200). The campaigns know this because they record the data in that manner precisely because they need to know who is bumping up against the contribution limits.

Now, I guess it’s possible that some campaigns use software that is not as well-written as my client’s (I was brought in to revise an existing application, and the contribution limit checking was already in place, though the sophistication of the process has been vastly improved since I took it over) and that the software they are using makes no attempt to match an incoming contribution to a donor that already exists in their database of contributors. And certainly online credit card contributions certainly make this harder to track.

But, nonetheless, these campaigns don’t *want* to accept contributions that exceed the limits because it just isn’t worth it:

  1. There can be fines and penalties for exceeding contribution limits.
  2. Violations of contribution limits require a lot of administrative work to refund the contributions when they are discovered.
  3. Once the violation is corrected, the campaign then has to create amended filings that reflect the refunds.
  4. If those violations get reported to the public, it can cause a huge political scandal.

When I first started working on this project, I had read a lot about campaign contribution shenanigans and thought the campaigns were really dirty, and trying to game the system. But once I saw it from the inside, and realized exactly how much major campaigns rely on volunteers for help in processing the huge volume of $$$ that can come in during the last few weeks of a campaign, I realized that honest mistakes are a natural consequence of the process. Human error is often the cause — a transposed pair of letters in the data entry of a person’s name can cause a match with a previous donor record to be missed (and don’t think there is no check on loose matches — there’s a whole bunch of code in the lookup process that tries to find the closest record in the event of a non-exact match on name).

In short, what I realized was that these organizations are *never* doing this on purpose, because the cost would just not be worth it at all. And most of the cost is not in the fines or adminstrative costs, but in the political fallout that comes from the publicity when problems are discovered and reported in the media.

So, I really think this is just another example of trumped-up Republican hysteria. And the only reason the Republicans don’t have exactly the same problem is because they are so damned unattractive to voters that they just aren’t getting the myriad small donors that Obama is.

David Brooks Almost Fooled Me

I usually can’t abide David Brooks’s columns, but on the train home tonight, I got around to reading yesterday’s column. I was thinking “Wow! This is one of the best columns of his I’ve ever read! I haven’t gotten pissed off at his stupidity even once!”

Right up until the last paragraph:

Until these and other issues are addressed, the global markets will lack confidence in asset values. Bankers will cower, afraid to lend. America’s role as the global hub will be threatened. Europeans will drift toward nationalization. Neomercantilists will fill the vacuum.

This is the test. This is the problem that will consume the next president. Meanwhile, the two candidates for that office are talking about Bill Ayers and Charles Keating.

Indeed, he had me with him right up through his last sentence, and then he has to go and ruin it. The fact is, comparing Bill Ayres and Charles Keating as Brooks does is a false equivalency. One is a casual acquaintance of the candidate, while the other was the prime mover behind pushing the other candidate onto the national stage.

Worse still, if McCain weren’t talking about Ayers, Obama wouldn’t need to be pointing out McCain’s association with Keating as a way of showing how hypocritcal and dishonest McCain is.

This is what happens all the time among the elite punditocracy — they can’t seem to bring themselves to come out and state the obvious:

One candidate is a disaster, a dishonest and dishonorable man who has taken his campaign into the gutter. And that candidate is John McCain.

Backwards Blogs

Why has the convention of live-blogging events developed such that the last item is always placed at the top? Do they really expect that readers are going to be reading them in real time, and hitting refresh over and over again? If so, why would posting in order not work just as well, since hitting a soft refresh won’t reload the whole page, just the changed part?

I find it extremely annoying reading these things in reverse and think the whole convention should be completely abandoned.

Second Presidential Debate

I saw the debate last night but haven’t read any blogosphere reaction. I did watch the PBS and MSNBC post mortems, and talked a bit about it with my roommate (who hasn’t watched the campaign terribly closely, though he’s pretty well-informed as a regular Daily Show/Colbert Report watcher).

  • What was with McCain standing up and wandering around all the time while Obama spoke? There was an enormous contrast between the demeanor of the two while the other party was speaking — Obama was completely relaxed and attentive to what McCain had to say. But while Obama spoke, McCain wandered around, and hardly ever sat down and just listened. I couldn’t help but think that McCain looked like one of the crazy old men you might see wandering about aimlessly in the background at a nursing home. I’m pretty sure I know why he didn’t sit down — he didn’t want to look shorter than Obama — but the end result was that he looked kinda crazy.
  • Obama didn’t take notes even once, so far as I noticed, yet he was completely in command of what he wanted to say and never missed an opportunity to respond to what McCain had said. Obama didn’t *need* notes, yet McCain appeared to.
  • I’m not sure if McCain lied less often or if I’m just getting used to, but I didn’t shout at the TV as often as I have in the first two debates.
  • Could Brokaw’s plan for 1-minute discussion have been any worse? He was asking substantive followups that required more than 1 minute between the candidates (or even 1 minute each), and if they went over, it was Brokaw’s own damned fault for asking what amounted to followup questions that simply required more time than he allowed them. It seemed rather churlish of him to ask such questions and then refuse them the time it took to answer — very seldom did either candidate filibuster in response to Brokaw’s followup questions.
  • Why in the hell would anyone think that Warren Buffet would want to be Secretary of the Treasury?

Otherwise, an uneventful debate. Obama looked more and more presidential and McCain looked more and more out of touch, just repeating the same old stuff.

Incompetent Reporting

Jamison Foser at Media Matters has an editorial about the lack of clarity in the way the media report on “disputes” between the campaigns. An example he doesn’t mention is last night’s ABC News (i.e., Friday, Oct. 3rd), where anchor Charlie Gibson discussed with George Stephanopolous various exchanges in the vice presidential debate. On the topic of “General McClellan” they played Palin’s remark, and they pointed out that it was a mistake in regard to the name of the general. But they said absolutely nothing about the fact that she was completely wrong in characterizing what McKiernan had actually said — Biden was right and Palin was wrong. But all they wanted to talk about was the fact that Biden’s facial expression indicated that *he* knew that she’d gotten the name wrong.

In other words, spend all your time on the simple slip of the tongue (which nobody really cares about at all), and completely ignore a case where the candidate, Palin, utters a bald-faced lie about what was very clearly stated by the general.


Non-Verbal Reactions in Interviews vs. Debates

I wonder if the reason Palin is decent in a debate and so horrible in an interview is that in a debate, she’s not receiving obvious non-verbal feedback from the questioner. In a one-on-one interview, the interviewer will be reacting to what she says, and as she spews her gibberish, if the interviewer’s eyebrows go up, Palin knows she’s been caught out. This in turn makes her conscious that she’s going to get a follow-up, so she has to start thinking on that, or trying to fix her answer as she continues to speak.

Perhaps this is a male/female thing — women are socially trained to be more empathetic (though, of course, any particular woman can be just as boorishly insensitive as any particular man), and women tend to be more sensitive to non-verbal communication. In a debate format, she’s on her own, with virtually no non-verbal reaction to her words. While her debate opponent may provide some non-verbal reactions, that’s her *opponent*, and can be safely ignored (or has already been anticipated in debate prep). The moderator has a job to minimize any non-verbal reactions, by virtue of needing to be fair to all the participants in the debate. Thus, there is no really significant reaction to her remarks in real time to drive her train of thought off the tracks.

I think that more than anything else is why she did so poorly in the interviews while doing pretty decently in the debate — her message was not being non-verbally critiqued in real time, and that allowed her to plow through her prepared talking points unhindered by any need to actually think.

Note: Blink tag on Palin’s name explained here.