October 31, 2008

ASTEROID!

Inescapable cataclysm! Total destruction! Nowhere to hide! Make peace with your God!

Prepare yourselves, sayeth the news. This thing is coming and you can’t stop it. You’ve seen the numbers. Banks of supercomputers refining to the eighth significant figure the precise moment of impact; the location down to a half mile. The giant Obamaroid bearing down on us: unstoppable by mere puny earthlings; a rock the size of Ireland, immutable, inevitable, crushing and final. Run all you want; you’ll just die tired. This is it. The end of all we hold dear.

And what advice do we hear from political science advisors, our best and brightest stalwarts rallied to stave off this disaster? What say these wise men in white coats, men that spend decades in labs, dissecting every trend and poll, crunching numbers and assaying intentions to the milligram? What help might we look to them for?

Ah! Some instructions! Something at last, some hope to cling to! Let me just check the official printout here…

On the morning of impact, grab the sturdiest chair you can find. Move it away from all doors and windows. A basement is your best bet, if you have one. Place the chair in any doorway underneath a load-bearing beam – a steel I-beam is ideal. Sit down and place your feet about two feet apart, firmly pressing down on the floor. Open your mouth slightly to relieve the overpressure from the impact, and the instant you see the flash of light, close you eyes immediately, lean forward as far as you can, put your hands over your ears and kiss your ass goodbye.

You know, I love cheap sci-fi. And one of my favorite lines from an absolutely terrific little cheap sci-fi film is this: History is-a made at night. Character is what you are in the dark.

This attitude of despair is being trumpeted from the left for the sensible and understandable reason that if they lose this election – with all the advantages they have at this precise point in time – then they can never win. Not ever. And the media is pulling with their teeth now, because if Obama loses they will have destroyed their credibility – for nothing.

That’s all fine with me. I know what they and the press sayeth. Sayeth I:

If we are mark'd to lose, we are enow
To do our party loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
Let he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not vote in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to vote with us.
This day is call'd the eve of Elect-ian.
He that votes this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Republican
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is the fourth of November'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his hands,
And say 'With these I moved yon levers on election day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What votes he did cast that day.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that shares his vote with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen and lady pundits now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their book deals cheap whilst any speaks
That voted with us upon election day.

The original is a speech promising glory in the face of overwhelming defeat. King Henry V went on to win perhaps the most miraculous victory in the history of mankind.

This is not an asteroid we face. It is not preordained, unstoppable, inevitable. It is a choice made by human men and women, an individual decision made a hundred million times and not the cold, precise product of gravity and mass.

My friend Iowahawk writes some of the most brilliant satire I have ever read. He likes to come across as a beer-swilling gearhead – because he is – but look at this [ http://iowahawk.typepad.com/iowahawk/2008/10/balls-and-urns.html ] analysis of what probability and polling is and isn’t, which I will proceed to steal a graph or two from, simply so that I may bask in its reflected glory:

You take a simple random sample of 1000 balls from an urn containing 120,000,000 red and blue balls, and your sample shows 450 red balls and 550 blue balls. Construct a 95% confidence interval for the true proportion of blue balls in the urn."

…Works pretty well if you're interested in hypothetical colored balls in hypothetical giant urns, or survival rates of plants in a controlled experiment, or defects in a batch of factory products. It may even work well if you're interested in blind cola taste tests. But what if the thing you are studying doesn't quite fit the balls & urns template?

• What if 40% of the balls have personally chosen to live in an urn that you legally can't stick your hand into?
• What if 50% of the balls who live in the legal urn explicitly refuse to let you select them?
• What if the balls inside the urn are constantly interacting and talking and arguing with each other, and can decide to change their color on a whim?
• What if you have to rely on the balls to report their own color, and some unknown number are probably lying to you?
• What if you've been hired to count balls by a company who has endorsed blue as their favorite color?
• What if you have outsourced the urn-ball counting to part-time temp balls, most of whom happen to be blue?
• What if the balls inside the urn are listening to you counting out there, and it affects whether they want to be counted, and/or which color they want to be?

(And what, I wonder, if all around you, every day, you are told by all of the coolest, hippest, prettiest balls that your color is mean, irrelevant, unpopular, un-cool, evil, old, incompetent and probably racist? Would you stick to your guns in the face of that, or keep your mouth shut and show ‘em when the curtain closes?)

Iowahawk concludes:

If one or more of the above statements are true, then the formula for margin of error simplifies to
Margin of Error = Who the hell knows?

The moral of this midterm for all would-be pollsters: if you are really interested in how many of us red and blue balls there are in this great big urn, sit back and relax until Tuesday, and let us show our true colors.

Well said, buddy. And finally, this, from Zombietime.com:

It may very well be that an army of glum, dispirited and pessimistic conservatives will reluctantly trudge to the polls on November 4, each one imagining they are the only remaining person in the entire country voting for McCain, and lo and behold -- they'll turn out to be a silent majority after all.

That may be the most prophetic sentence of the year.

I don’t want to be the person who sat home and missed being a part of that. And I won’t be.

See you there.








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Posted by Proteus at October 31, 2008 1:54 PM