Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wherein I Violate Trademark Laws Again

Let's all sing like the birdies sing
Tweet! Tweet! Tweet! Tweet! Tweet! ~ Robert Hargreaves, 1932
Twitter has trademarked the common English words twitter and tweet. Both words date back to the 14th century but are now owned by a corporation.
All the windows of my heart I open to the day.  ~ John Greenleaf Whittier
Of course, Microsoft has already taken ownership of the 700 year old word Windows and any iteration of those letters.

Apple owns apple, but so do the Beatles and they fought over the word for years. Apple also claims ownership the word pad, which will make it difficult for Tampon to explain what their product is.

Richard Branson (right) owns the word virgin even though he hasn't met a virgin in decades.

And Visa has managed to get a judge to rule that even using the word visa for something completely different than a credit card infringes on their ownership of that word.

This ownership of common words has created a new industry where large companies sue small businesses because they dare use everyday words in their products or names. It's called Brand Bullying.

See also How Trademark Law Has Turned From A Consumer Protection Law, Into A Weapon To Hinder Competition.

A bird, Twittering Tweet Tweet, chased a Macintosh Apple across a writing Pad to the Window sill. It fell out of the Window and landed, splat, on the head of a Virgin.

I await your C&D letters.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Short Takes

Operation Chaos
Maybe its because I'm an anarchist but I kinda like this Palinesque idea to disrupt the Alaska Senatorial election. A couple hundred Alaskans have filed as write-in candidates with the intention of confusing and sabotaging Lisa Murkowski's write-in campaign. It is neither illegal nor underhanded.

The Real Operation Chaos
There was a real Operation Chaos. This was an illegal CIA domestic spying program that was authorized during the Eisenhower Administration, grew during Johnson's presidency, and became a monster waging war against the American people under Richard Nixon.

Cracked Concrete
Show of hands. How many people were surprised to learn that Halliburton cutting corners may have led to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster? Shoddy practices in search of greater profits has Halliburton's business model for well over a decade. That doesn't excuse BP. Everyone knows the only reason to hire Halliburton is their wide variety of sex slaves

Because They Made 'Em
Robert Reich wonders why business leaders aren't standing up to the Tea Party loons. Silly goose. Business leaders made and funded the Tea Party movement as a gaggle of useful idiots. In January, those business leaders expect to see Rand Paul and Sharron Angle hidden away on the Subcommittee of Hunger, Nutrition, and Family Farms while their earmarks and tax breaks are grown even larger. They expect to put them to sleep with impeachment hearings and excite them with the prospects of a nice, profitable war with Iran.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Stab in the Back

The thing I don't miss most about politics is the treachery. From my time in the trenches I had more and deeper wounds in my back than I ever got from the enemy, and I was never a candidate.
Political backstabbing is as old as the Republic. Remember Aaron Burr. The worst part of politics is when you have a friend who you know has your back. Except, your friend decided it would benefit him to use your thoracic spine as a scabbard. So, as you fight the good fight forward you feel a sharp pain in your back. It's all just politics.

The latest example is what Bill Clinton did to Kendrick Meek. Meek is going to lose the Florida Senate race and he's going to lose big. Republican running as an independent Charlie Crist has hinted he might caucus with Democrats. So Bill Clinton turned on his "good friend" and started pressuring Meek to drop out. It's just politics.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

California's Prop. 19 and the Drug Prohibition Industry

Full disclosure, I don't smoke marijuana, never have. So I don't have a horse in this race.

 The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is throwing millions into the anti-pot campaign. The question is, why?

Their argument that all school bus drivers will start showing up to work stoned doesn't pass the sniff test (pun intended). Driving while impaired will still be illegal and they could always get drunk.

Their argument that the California workforce will all become hopheads is also silly. If they are so concerned, drug testing is really cheap now.

The Real Reason
The real reason the Chamber of Commerce is investing so much money in its anti-Prop. 19 campaign is to protect the big business of illegal marijuana importation. Prop. 19 will legalize personal cultivation of pot (like the state of Alaska), replacing all of those backyard zucchini crops and that will devastate the importation industry. The current prohibition is vital to their business.

The Chamber of Commerce is just carrying water for the commercial enterprises known as drug cartels.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thuggish Politics

The New World Order of Tea Party Republicans is reminiscent of the Sturmabteilung.

In Alaska, thugs hired by Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller rough up and handcuff a reporter for the Alaska Dispatch.
In Tennessee, volunteer thug supporters of Rand Paul manhandle and stomp a women they disagreed with. Comments at Salon.
In Virginia, in March, Tea Party leaders published a home address they mistakenly believed to be that of Congressman Tom Perriello. The next day someone tried to blow up that house by cutting the gas line.The thugs failed.

It makes the mere threat of Tea Party mass murder seem quaint.

Monday, October 25, 2010

San Diego Chargers Redefine Pathetic

Yesterday I wasted yet another Sunday afternoon watching the San Diego Chargers play at playing football. At the time I was comparing them to the old Ryan Leaf Chargers, but that isn't fair. The Chargers then were all around pathetic. They had a man-child at quarterback and their best player was their punter (Darren Bennett).

The 2010 Chargers may be the best pathetic team in sports history. They lead the league in offensive stats and lead in defensive stats. They also lead the league in having kicks blocked, kicks returned for touchdowns, and fumbles lost. And they definitely lead the league in stupid. They have a funny habit of leaving live balls lying on the ground unattended for the other team to pick up.

The Chargers are so bad they will stink up the field for three quarters. So good they can come back to almost tie anyway. And so stupid they will take a dumb penalty in the last seconds to lose the game.

Football as farce.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

California Governor's Race

How do you top having Conan the Destroyer for a governor?

Meg Whitman - Republican
Bored with the life of a retired billionaire Meg presents the bizarre image of a fiscal conservative who is spending a shitload of money to buy the State of California as her new toy.
Scrooge McDuck was never such a wastrel.
Meg is spending $160 million to get elected. To put that in perspective, Carly Fiorina, the former CEO running for Senate, only has a net worth of $20 million. She'd have saved money just buying votes directly on eBay. Most Californians would sell their ballots for a full tank of gas.

Her campaign has proved that even if you give political consultants a blank check they will still manage over spend. She has even put out an "I'm not a billionaire, I'm you" ad that might have worked several months ago before Christine O'Donnell spoiled the genre.

Jerry Brown - Democrat
Jerry Brown has been in politics for over half a century. If you add in his childhood as the son of a career politician, he has spent his entire life in the game. You'd figure in a "throw the bums out" election year that would be a handicap. Add in his looking like Skeletor and he appeared to be a loser running against anybody.

But, experience has value. Jerry has run a great campaign. He had a rope-a-dope strategy early, letting Meg overspend wildly. Jerry relied on the rule of diminishing returns in political advertising, that after a while every additional television commercial is just beating a dead horse. Meg peaked too soon. Jerry conserved his cash and has spent it wisely. His ads in the last month have traction while Meg's ads are falling on deaf ears.

There is a subliminal message to this campaign as well. Jerry Brown is the fiscal conservative who knows how to spend money wisely. Meg Whitman is the spendthrift whose answer to every problem is to just throw more money at it.

The Issues
You know, in this campaign there really are no issues. Things are shitty, the state is dysfunctional and there are no easy, 30-second ad answers.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Juan Williams Experience

I guess I have to write about this guy. Geez!

I haven't heard a single word he's said in a decade. Back when he hosted "Talk of the Nation" on NPR I quickly realized that Juan Williams was an idiot. Not your run of the mill stupid person but a certifiable dope. It wasn't any one thing he said, just his general lack of critical, or even any, thinking. I stopped listening to TOTN and whenever he showed up as a commentator I would click off the radio.

Not being exposed to Juan Williams has made my life infinitely less stressful. (I also would turn off Cokie Roberts but that was because I kept picturing her calling in her reports from bed dressed in a nightie (shudder!).

I wasn't surprised when I found out that Williams was being paid to be the token everything on FOX. It fit him. Now he is adding being a professional victim to his FOX creds. The fact is Williams should have been fired years ago not for any specific comment but because any intern from Georgetown University would have done a better job.

While we are at it, what exactly is that "Muslim garb" Williams is seeing on airplanes all of the time? Granted, Muslim women will wear those terrifying headscarves, but what are the men wearing that gets Williams pissing his pants?

I've never seen anyone in the United States wearing a thobe or a ghutra. Maybe he is thinking of the number of black Americans who wear kufi caps? Yet the kufi is an ethnic, not a religious cap. Virtually all the Americans wearing kufis are Protestants.

But, then, as I have said, Juan Williams is an idiot.

Ceasar's Wife
As long as I'm dissing professional idiots, how about Clarence Thomas' wife? Here's a woman who is just a high-tech whore. She gets shit-faced one morning after her husband spent the night screwing his mistress and calls some innocent woman with crazy talk. Poor Anita Hill has spent the past two decades just trying to live a quiet life and she gets harassed out of the blue by the wife of the man who used to harass her. Why won't they just leave her alone?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Buying Supreme Court Justices

There have always been corrupt judges. Although they were punished more harshly in the past (Sisamnes of Persia) than they are now (Alcee Hastings of Florida).

Bribing United States Supreme Court justices was rare, not because they are any more honest than other people but because it just wasn't very cost efficient. Bribe a circuit court judge and you can get away with murder but you never know if a valuable case will get to the Supreme Court. Besides, it is cheaper to bribe at the appellate level.

That seems to be changing thanks to the open corruption of Clarance Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Thomas, through his wife, has set up a bribe receiving service called Liberty Central where people and corporations wishing to buy favors from Justice Thomas can give tax deductible gifts. No under-the-table envelopes, you can buy Justice Thomas' court rulings with just a few convenient mouse clicks.

Scalia, true to his nature, is more old school. He doesn't so much sell his decisions as he sells his soul. He'll take the frequent lavish gift, but more than that he is worried about the future of judicial graft. He is afraid some future honesty fad could destroy the culture of corruption he enjoys. In opinion after opinion, Scalia has ruled in defense of the right to give and take bribes. (Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., Fischer v. U.S., Citizens United).

Scalia and Thomas may skip the State of the Union address but they do attend Koch Industries political events. Anyone who believes they are not royally compensated for their attendance is hopeless naive.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Real Fake ID Industry

The whole No Fly and Terrorist Watch List thing is a joke not just because it is being run by lazy bureaucrats. Oh no. What makes it a joke is that for a few thousand dollars you can buy absolutely real, phony, identity papers.

I stumbled on this morning. This is a full service business that provides "alternative identification" documents. If you are cheap, for just €900 you can get a fake passport from a nonexistent country, like Zanzibar.

Spend more money, €2600 gets a French passport, and they will create a document with all the security features of a real passport. But it gets better. Spend €35,000 and they can provide an absolutely 100% genuine diplomatic passport (from a South American country) that can get you through customs and grant actual diplomatic immunity.

For me, the best deal is the Full New Identity Package. For only €1500 you can get the whole magilla. You'll get a birth certificate from their "missing persons database" plus a passport. "All legitimate and fully registered documents" for your new, fake, ID.

And just to show the trustworthy kind of clientele they service, they insist on being paid in full in advance. This is not a service priced for illegal aliens. This is a service for corrupt businessmen, drug traffickers, politicians with foreign mistresses, and well funded terrorists. And they have a shitload of lawyers to insure it is all perfectly legal.

Are you just looking to duck out on debt or an ex-wife, con some widow out of her life savings, or buy the explosives to blow up a federal building and don't want to spend a lot of money on phony papers? The Espionage Store offers fake ID, including a fake college degree, for only $69. Do-it-yourselfers will want to use Eden Press, for only $25 you can buy a book that will teach you to fake your own identity.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Republicans for Disenfranchisement

Tea Party Republicans lead a movement to restrict, prevent, and dissuade people from voting.
  • Require Literacy Tests to Vote - In February, Tom Tancredo told a Tea Party conference that the reason a black man was elected president was the absence of Jim Crow literacy tests.
  • Urging Minorities to Just Not Vote - In Nevada, supporters of Tea Party Republican Sharron Angle are broadcasting an ad in Spanish urging Hispanics to not vote. 
  • Voter Caging - Challenging the right of citizens to vote. Minorities go the the polls only to find that Republicans have placed them on a list as suspected illegal voters. The citizens then have to jump through hoops to prove they are legal voters. The goal is to dissuade people from voting by making the process impossibly difficult. See also.
  • Lose Your Home, Lose Your Vote - A unique form of voter caging is happening in Michigan where Republicans are challenging the right to vote of anybody who lost a home to foreclosure.
  • Show Your Papers - I have been voting in a middle-class white neighborhood for decades. I've never had to "show my papers" to vote. Minorities are not so lucky. The goal, again, is to frustrate, anger, and intimidate voters into walking away without casting a ballot.
  • Thuggery - Unsubtle, straight up physical intimidation is also happening.
  • Disenfranchise Public Employees - Pat Sajak and National Review recently advocated removing the right to vote from people with "conflicts of interest."
Tea Party Republicans believe that only an elite few (them and their friends) should have the right to vote. As I wrote several years ago, history may well record this era in American history as the Great Disenfranchisement

Art is Thomas Nast from Harper's Weekly, 1874.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Folding the Foil

It wouldn't take much to get me to start wearing a tin foil hat. Just a little push to make me a liberal commie reflection of Glenn Beck. Especially if Tea Party nuts win power.
  • Never before in my life has government been so completely a wholly owned subsidiary of large corporations. Corporates are openly buying elections. More than every they are absorbing public activities like roads, tax collection, law enforcement, and war into purely profit making enterprises for private businesses. The concept of "the public good" is disappearing. 
  • Spying on citizens is at an all time high. There is government spying and corporate spying. Use a debit card, a grocery store discount card, Google, carry a cell phone? Just about any activity is being recorded by some corporation somewhere. Google records every time you watch porn, RiteAid records every condom purchase. Corporate spies know everything about your private life.
  • Big Brother is watching. Walk down any city street, get on any subway, and chances are you are on candid camera. There are millions of surveillance cameras operating in the United States alone. 
  • Religious fanatics are a constant threat. Muslim fanatics, Christian fundamentalists, extremists of every faith (except Baha'i, they seem pretty mellow) are determined to convert or exterminate the planet. Often both.
It is true that history has seen all of this before but I have never seen this level of crazy. During the Gilded Age, the very rich used government like a dog's chew toy. The 1950's was a time when spying on your neighbor was considered your civic duty. The Inquisition was much like now, religiously.

It is a dangerous time. Prosperity for the powerful has became disconnected from prosperity for the nation. In fact, driving the vast majority of people in grinding poverty made good business sense for the billionaire's club. A paranoid, surveillance society will always find scapegoats to hang. And Karl Marx was wrong. Religion, today, is not the opiate of the masses it is the meth amphetamine. Paranoid hate filled religions are the norm and they tend to go crazy, blood crazy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bored Now

Less than three weeks to the mid-terms, I should be able to find something political that is halfway interesting. There's nothing.

Sometimes you just feel like a witch who hasn't flayed anyone alive in a long while.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chemical Weapons Are a Constitutional Right

An interesting little cause celeb among conservatives is the case of a woman convicted on federal charges for using the United States mail to try to poison her philandering husband (Bond v. US). It's a case now before the Supreme Court that conservatives hope will obliterate two centuries of case law.

The focus for conservatives is their belief that the Commerce Clause in the Constitution does not allow the federal government to interfere with a citizen's right to accumulate and disperse chemical weapons. They content that is purely a local matter.

On a grander scale, conservatives intend to use this case to wipe out a plethora federal rules from health care, to CAFE standards, to firearms, to the minimum wage. Conservatives are rallying to this murderous woman because they believe she can kill the federal government.
It is all part of their nostalgia for the days when an American terrorist could send chemical weapons to politicians without the Feds interfering.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Advice for the Day

Never Steal Anything Small - If you use a gun to take a couple thousand dollars from a bank and you'll have the FBI hunting you down and you'll earn a couple decades in prison. Falsify a piece of paper to steal someone's entire house and you will not only get away with it you will earn a sweet bonus for the ingenuity.

Monday, October 11, 2010

How the Chargers and Cowboys Are Like Democrats

In 2009, Democrats held 59½ (Lieberman is the half) Senate seats, they had a massive party ID advantage, and people were willing to forgive almost anything as long as if was different than George Bush. At the start of this football season the San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys were projected to waltz through the regular season and were favorites to go to the Super Bowl.

Today, the Democrats are reduced to praying to retain a slim majority in the Senate (assuming Lieberman doesn't flip) and one of the few teams more embarrassing than the Chargers is the Cowboys. How did this happen?
  • Overconfidence - Like Karl Rove in 2000, Democrats deluded themselves into believing that the 2008 election marked a generational shift that would lead to Democratic government for years to come. Overconfidence leads to...
  • Laziness - When you believe victory is your due you stop working for it. Martha Coakley in Massachusetts is the poster girl for lazy politicians. In football, lazy players whiff blocks. The Chargers gave up two blocked punts in the first quarter against the pathetic Oakland Raiders because the special teams players were saving their energy for the after-game party.
  • Backbenchers Fail - What has Ben Nelson (D-NE) accomplished in his decade in the Senate? I'll wait.... Give up? Nothing. No major legislation bears his name, not even anything minor. He's delivered a little pork to the hog farmers in his state but that's about it. None of the Blue Dog Democrats is an accomplished politician. They are like the backups who only play on kick-offs and punts. When the benchwarmers stop acting like part of the team, stop contributing to the team effort, the team loses.
  • The Blame Game - This is a coaching issue. It is always someone else's fault never the guy actually in charge. Winning teams man up when they lose.
All three teams (Chargers, Cowboys, Democrats) might still pull off enough wins this season. But all three are profoundly disappointing. 

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Silly Party

This Monty Python skit reminds me so much of this election. There is the Sanity Party and the Silly Party. And the only way the Sanity Party can win is when the Silly Party's vote is divided with an even sillier candidate.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Christine McDonnell Is the Walrus

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
See how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they fly.
I'm crying.
~ Beatles, I Am the Walrus

I am not a witch. I am you. ~ Christine McDonnell
I finally got it, her bizarre ad finally makes sense. Christine McDonnell does not masturbate, but she does do acid.

Don't you think the joker laughs at you?
It all makes sense if you stop thinking.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

War Notes

America Is Still Arming the Taliban
It is really no surprise that the United States government is providing military computers, guns, uniforms, even at least one Humvee to the Taliban. We've been doing it for several decades now. It is just a matter of fair play to insure that the other side in a war has access to quality weapons.

Officially, the material is being "stolen," although most of it is probably being sold cheap by the civilian contractors moving the container trucks. But the bottom line is that the United States military is the principal supplier of weapons to the Taliban rebels we are fighting.

It Worked For Black Jack Pershing
The US Army is quietly working across the border in Mexico. Most disturbing is that the notorious School of the Americas is "training" Mexican soldiers. The SOA taught torture techniques to military thugs from Guatemala to Chile. When SOA trained generals pull their Mexico City coup (it is just a matter of time) and institute the kind of martial law the SOA teaches the Mexican people will look back at the time of the drug wars as "El Tiempo Tranquilo."

The Iraq War
The Iraq War has killed 4,424 American servicemembers with another 31,967 wounded. While their designation has changed and the 50,000 troops still there are mostly hiding in their barracks they will continue to die seemingly forever.

US Army Officers Are Cowards
A little factoid I discovered. While the ratio of enlisted to officer in the US Army is 6 to 1, eleven enlisted men die in Iraq  for every officer killed. While the grunts are out there getting shot and killed for their country, the officers are kicking back poolside in the Green Zone sucking pina colada. It is what passes for leadership in the modern military.
The Palace Pool, Green Zone, Baghdad

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Yellow Peril

I'm surprised I didn't see this before. The current Islamophobia is just a revival of the 19th century Yellow Peril scare. Bin Laden is given the role of Fu Manchu, a strange looking evil genius whose insidious tentacles and countless minions threaten Western Civilization itself. 
He has the backing of a political group whose wealth is enormous, and his mission in Europe is to PAVE THE WAY! Do you follow me? He is the advance-agent of a movement so epoch-making that not one Britisher, and not one American, in fifty thousand has ever dreamed of it. ~ Sax Rohmer
Of course, Muslims have replaced the Chinese. They have an odd religion and odd rituals. They look different. They are brutal and do not value human life. They will take our women. Hell, they even trade in opium.
The larger forces at play in the developed world that have left Europe too enfeebled to resist its remorseless transformation into Eurabia and that call into question the future of much of the rest of the world. ~ Mark Steyn
It is all merely old-fashioned xenophobia, but it is remarkable how little the verbiage and imagery have changed in over a century. It is like some lazy bigot just stole all of the Yellow Peril rhetoric and recycled it.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Privatizing Fire Fighting

One of the dirty little secrets Republicans have been hiding is that they have been fighting to privatize fire protection services across the country. Hundreds of communities across the country offer fire and paramedic services by subscription.

The notorious Obion, TN fire department, which will only put out fires if you have prepaid for the service, is not alone. Privatizing fire (and police) protection has been a major cause of the conservative movement. They don't brag about it because they know the public would be outraged at the idea, but they are working towards that goal step by step.
  • "Few people stop to think that completely eliminating governmental funding for police and fire departments could result in a large increase in public welfare and safety" ~ Americanly Yours
  • "Turn every fire department into a private company. Allow competition from other companies. And charge for services." ~ CalWatchdog
  • "the entire incident [Obion] is a great libertarian success story" ~ Livejournal
  • Talk About Not Understanding The Free Rider Problem ~ Iconic Midwest
  • “Our philosophy is simple.  People should die if they can’t afford fire care, and they should go broke if their house burns down.  Let the free market decide.” ~ angrytownhall (These guys are probably being sarcastic but the problem with modern radical conservatives is you can't be sure.) 
This is really just part of the conservative desire to return to the Founding Fathers in all things fair or foul. In the early days of the Republic, fire protection was on a subscription only basis. You would pay an insurance company and place their shield (above) on your house. If your house caught fire private fire brigades would compete to be the first ones to put out the fire and get paid by the insurance company. Really a lot like the current HMO health system.

If there were no fires the private fire brigades would not be paid, which certainly led to commercially profitable arson.

It was those damn socialist French who came up with the idea of paid professionals who would put out every fire as a civic service. It wasn't until the latter half of the 19th century that fire fighting became a civil responsibility in the United States. Mutual aid, where fire department help each other, is a young concept that conservatives are determined to kill.

Other links: Kalamazoo to privatize fire protection,  Is Burning Home Sign of Tea Party America, John Galt Joins the Fire Brigade, Private Fire Protection Fails (NY Times)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Wall Street Crowd

A bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes. ~ Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Booman references a New York Times article about that guy who asked President Obama to stop beating up Wall Street "like a piƱata." He wants us to feel sorry for the Wall Street crowd. All of the criticism of their predatory feeding frenzy that crippled the economy is hurting their feelings.

They are angry that others don't think as highly of them as they think of themselves. They believe they are poverty stricken millionaires deserving of pity. And they just hate it when we point to the bailouts, they believe they were entitled and that we should be thanking them for taking our money.

The Wall Street crowd are very much like the card sharks of the Old West. The honest ones are nothing more than professional gamblers. Most are crooks and con artists with less scruples than a walnut. If you think about the old Three-Card Monte scam, credit default swaps start making sense.

Oddly, their saviors are the Tea Party. Mixing metaphors, it's like the mob with torches and pitchforks is storming Castle Frankenstein because they want to help that poor, misunderstood Monster.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Why Polls Are Mostly Worthless

Every election season, and election off-season for that matter, we are inundated with polling data. Polling firms act like the Delphic Oracle when they are really nothing more than educated guesses.
  • The margin of error is a statistical fudge factor. Assuming the data collected is accurate the real numbers will be anywhere within the margin (95% of the time). SurveyUSA's poll of the California governor's race has Brown beating Whitman 46% to 43% with a margin of error +-4%. That means Brown's numbers are anywhere between 50% and 42%, Whitman anywhere between 47% and 39%. So the poll is telling us that Brown is winning, unless he is losing.
  • Sample size. When they start breaking polls down to small bits the sample size gets tiny. That same SurveyUSA poll survey said they surveyed 610 voters with 6% being black. That's 36.6 people. Whitman gets 27% of black votes, says SurveyUSA, 27% of 36 people equals 10. Ten blacks said they were voting for Whitman. If it were 11, her percentage of black voters would jump to 30%. And with tiny sample sizes the margin of error skyrockets. The margin of error for the black subset is 16%.
  • Weighing. The problem is they probably didn't reach exactly 36.6 black voters. Maybe they only contacted 25, maybe they talked to 50. Whatever, the pollster adjusts his actual numbers to that 36.6 voters. If they only reached 25 black voters those responses would be multiplied by 1.44. Whitman's ten blacks may only have been live seven voters.
  • Polling Questions. This problem can't be quantified but can be immense. Polling responses vary widely depending on the questions asked and the order of the questions. Push polls are a notorious example. Even changing the order of the questions in the SurveyUSA poll would have changed the results in unpredictable ways. 
  • Non-responses. Two out of every three people polled hang up or don't answer. Pollsters cling to the hope that this isn't a statistically significant factor but they don't have any, you know, actual statistics to back up that hope. For example, do angry (Tea Party) voters hang up more or less frequently than bored voters?
  • How they count undecided. Many pollsters push respondents to commit to somebody, they refuse to take "I don't know" for an answer. SurveyUSA says that only 3% of Californians are undecided on the Lieutenant Governor race. That is absurdly small and a sign they did a lot of arm twisting to get responses. Better polls use the Very/Somewhat/Not Very construct. That takes more time, costs more money, and almost no one does that.
This is not to say that polling is wildly inaccurate, They are, remember, educated guesses. They are almost always right in landslides. In close elections they are right a little better than half the time. On the whole, public opinion polling is better than reading Tarot cards. But not by much.

Read also: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Polling

Friday, October 01, 2010

Wow! Rick Sanchez Goes Old School Bigot

Rick Sanchez has an interesting belief system, straight out of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Specifically, Sanchez seems to believe that Protocol #12, Control of the Press, is actually true.

I admit, up until this morning I never heard of CNN's Rick Sanchez. I missed it when he called Barack Obama a "cotton-picking president." I missed it when he found the fun in eight people dying.

There is this mutual hatefest between Sanchez and FoxNews and he embarrassed Republican John Ensign by asking him obvious questions, so I guess I'm supposed to like him. I can't muster it.

In criticizing Sanchez I seem to be joining a rightwing FoxNews nuts. So be it. A bigot is a bigot, even if he is the enemy of my enemy.