Trick or Treat

I have to wonder who thought it was a good idea to have their kids go around trick-or-treating. It’s normal these days, but given that “trick or treat” is, in and of itself a threat to commit (unspecified) mischievous acts if not given treats, it must have been outrageous at the time when people actually thought about the phrase to suggest that their kids go door-to-door threatening their neighbors?

Of course I’m not some crazy politically-correct wacko who thinks it should be banned. These days it’s normal. But at some point in time, it wasn’t, and people decided to make it a tradition for their kids.

Insanity Rising

In addition to my mom being aghast by her hair dresser urging her to, “Keep the White House white,” there’s other signs that this election isn’t about the issues. As I was pumping gas today, some guy came up to me, apparently after seeing my Obama magnet on the car, and starting talking about William Ayers. Since I wasn’t expecting to be barraged with assaults on my politician of choice, I was somewhat caught off guard and thus told him I didn’t want to speak with him.

What I should have said instead is that Obama and Ayers served on the board of a charity organization helping schools. And that Ayers was put there by a Republican who was a close friend of Ronald Reagan. And that Obama was 8 when Ayers was setting his bombs. And that Democrats and Republicans alike have praised Ayers’ more recent work. And that Obama has denounced what Ayers did 40 years ago. Or that Todd Palin was a member of a radical movement wanting to secede from the US, founded by a guy who “once professed his ‘hatred for the American government’ and cursed our ‘damn flag.'” (Or that Sarah Palin, this year, as governor, gave an address to the group.)

But it probably wouldn’t have mattered. I think a lot of people have their minds made up. (And honestly, that Sarah Palin’s husband once belonged to a radical political organization isn’t a big deal for me. Just like the fact that Obama managed a charity with a guy who was a domestic terrorist four decades ago isn’t a big deal.)

What annoys me isn’t just that people are talking about these absurdities instead of the real issues, like our collapsing economy, two ongoing wars, millions of Americans without healthcare, etc. And I’m not even particularly dismayed that people are basing their votes on little talking points instead of the issues. What really gets me is that the truth doesn’t factor in anywhere. Some people are going to cast their votes based on lies and smears they’ve had forwarded to them.


Andrew Sullivan, author of The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back, has an interesting blog post: The Top Ten Reasons Conservatives Should Vote for Obama. And what interests me is that many of the reasons given are things that I’m a big supporter of.

Much as Mr. T talked about the other day, it sometimes seems hard for normal, thinking people to wholly fit in one party or the other. How confused is the world when it’s the Democrat who will lead to lower taxes and cutting the nation’s (ridiculous) debt?

Reclaiming Your Inbox

As time goes by, I end up on more and more mailing lists. Many are things I opt into: I download a new software package and subscribe to the mailing list, or I’m interested in learning more about something so I join a relevant mailing list…

The downside is that every morning I wake up and have around a dozen new messages, and none of them interest me. Some guy is having trouble configuring his mailserver. A package I don’t use anymore got updated…

In addition to unsubscribing from stuff I no longer care anything about, here’s an awesome tip that I suspect not enough people know about: creating rule-driven e-mail filters. GMail makes this very easy. Viewing a particular e-mail, where the reply button is, click the down arrow and do “Filter messages like this.” If it’s on a mailing list, you might also see a “Filter mail from this mailing list” button. (You have to click “Show details…” on the header.)

Set it to apply a new ‘label’ to that mailing list, which you can think of as copying it into a folder. Set it to skip the inbox, too. And have it apply to past messagesto help reduce the clutter.

And another trick someone pointed out: you know how most everyone has “Unread messages: 204924” in their inboxes? For some reason, I’m inclined to want to keep them, figuring they might be important. But if they were so uninteresting that I didn’t even open them, I’m most certainly not going to ever read them. In GMail, you can do a search for “is:unread” to find all unread mail, and bulk-delete them that way. It’s worth noting that this matches all mail with ‘labels,’ too.

I have no unread messages, and no ‘busy’ mailing lists cluttering my Inbox now.

The News is Crazy

A few sites I like to monitor for excellent insight into polling data are the oft-cited and

It’s useful for evaluating whether the news stories make any sense. MSN says the race is tightening; the polls show that the opposite is happening. I just saw a news story implying that Pennsylvania, with 21 electoral votes, is up for grabs and thus hotly contested. It’s actually almost 60-40 in favor of Obama, and FiveThirtyEight says Obama’s odds of winning the state are 99%, with McCain’s at 1%. Not such a hot contest.

Meanwhile, other sources talk about how it’s possible Obama will actually win McCain’s home state of Arizona. Indeed, Electoral Vote shows that it’s a weak GOP hold, with the most recent poll 50% McCain, 44% Obama. It’s not clear how current the numbers are on this one, but Five Thirty Eight puts Obama’s odds of stealing Arizona at 3%. So I guess I can’t contest calling it possible, but it’s really not worth your time to talk about it happening, because it almost certainly won’t.

Meanwhile, the two sites make it easy to see the real battleground states. Indiana is pretty much 50-50; Electoral Vote says it leans ever so slightly blue, and 538 says it leans ever so slightly red. Missouri’s really close, too, and also has 11 votes up for grabs; 59% odds of Obama, 41% odds of McCain, and a total tie according to EV.

For a real illustration of how probability versus polls give different numbers, take a look at North Carolina. EV says it leans very slightly blue, with Obama having 49% of the vote and McCain having 48% in the latest poll. 538 puts the odds of an Obama win there at 64%. Georgia leans a bit red, 46% Obama to 49% McCain, yet 538 says Obama doesn’t have much of a chance: 88% odds of a McCain victory. Florida’s another leaning-blue state, but 538 gives Obama a 79% likelihood of winning.

Of course they’re all just statistical predictions based on (quite) imperfect data. They can only look at the past. But both sites are run by people who are certainly much better with statistics than I am, and both sites seem to give much more insight than many of the braindead articles declaring that the race is tightening, and that the candidates are duking it out in Pennsylvania. If you’re going to report on the close races, you might at least consult some polls. (Another article discusses how it’s possible Obama will win the popular vote and yet lose the electoral college as happened to Gore in 2000; it’s possible just like McCain winning Washington, DC: theoretically possible, but the odds are very slim. Well under 1%, according to In short, much of the news seems to be doing a pretty lousy job of incorporating actual statistics into their articles.

But then again, the reminder of Al Gore (and John Kerry) brings up another point: just like happened in New Hampshire’s January ’08 primary, the polls get it all wrong sometimes. (Or maybe, it’s the notoriously inaccurate electronic voting machines… Don’t get me started on those.) So trust the statistics over hot air news stories, but don’t trust statistics too much, either. November 4th is still a week away.


For all John McCain loves to talk about Obama’s plans to “raise taxes,” one analyst has shown that it really doesn’t add up: just as Obama’s said, unless you’re making $250,000 a year or more, you’ll do better under Obama’s plans. For the example of a single mother making $42,000 a year, it’s the difference between $3,190 under McCain and $1,868 under Obama.

The site puts my confusion more eloquently:

Many Republicans have bitterly opposed the federal income tax since the 16th amendment was passed in 1913. Is McCain going to repeal the federal income tax? If so, how does he plan to finance the government? Or does he mean that the difference between the top rate of 39.6% under Bill Clinton and the top rate of 36% under George Bush is the difference between communism and capitalism? The purpose of the progressive federal income tax is to spread the wealth. That Democrats have supported a progressive income tax for decades is hardly news. Does McCain want to keep the tax but make it a flat tax (a la Steve Forbes)? No word on this. It seems this is just another desperate attempt to attack Obama rather than being a serious policy proposal for tax reform and it comes awfully late in the game. If McCain wanted to run on a platform of a flat tax, he certainly has had the opportunity, but until now he didn’t bring up the subject.

Oh, and in other news, al Qaeda has endorsed McCain (sort of), although I can hardly hold that against him. Though the article challenges the assumption that Republicans are somehow stronger on terrorism.

The Bailout

Quoting Electoral Vote:

House Republicans voted down the first bailout bill because they were afraid it would become just another government boondoggle. But after it was loaded up with more pork than all the pigs in Iowa, they changed their minds. Guess what? It has become just another government boondoggle. Sec. Henry Paulson’s idea was to buy up all the toxic mortgages to get them off the banks’ books. He long since shelved that plan. His next idea was to buy stock in the banks so they would have fresh capital and could start making loans again. However, instead of making loans, some banks are using the money to pay dividends, give executives bonuses, and buy other banks. For example, PNC Financial Services received $7.7 billion in government money and promptly spent $5.6 billion of it to buy National City Corp. Lawmakers are protesting but they should hardly be surprised since they gave Paulson unlimited authority to spend the money any way he wanted to, with hardly any supervision and no restrictions on what the recipients did with the money. In addition, Paulson hired the Bank of New York Mellon to run the program. On the same day Bank of New York Mellon received $3 billion itself, apparently deciding that it could use some cash. Hardly anyone noticed.

Pretty much everyone seemed to think the bailout package was a bad idea, and then it seems like pretty much everyone in Washington ended up voting for it. But have we learned nothing about the need for oversight, especially when handing companies billions of dollars?

Palin ’12

Today’s CNN headline: Palin’s ‘going rogue,’ McCain aide says.

Several McCain advisers have suggested to CNN that they have become increasingly frustrated with what one aide described as Palin “going rogue.”

“She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone,” said this McCain adviser. “She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else.

“Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom.”

“Her lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic,” said another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process to prepare Palin after she was picked. The source said it was probably the “hardest” to get her “up to speed than any candidate in history.”

While Joe Biden seems to keep misspeaking in awfully unfortunate ways, it seems as if the McCain-Palin combo is about to rip itself in two, with Palin and McCain advisors openly feuding. A few news agencies have independently speculated that this is the start of a “Palin for President, 2012” campaign.

November 4th

I really can’t wait. Not so much because it’s looking like Obama’s got it in the bag, but because I can’t stand the stuff going on.

For example, remember all the outrage about ACORN and voter fraud? ACORN is required by law to pass on every registration form they get, even those that they know are fraudulent. ACORN flagged most of the suspect ones as being apparently fraudulent when they sent them in. In other words, ACORN didn’t commit fraud; they flagged the fradulent applications they received, and submitted them as they were legally obligated to do.

Of course, that’s just twisting the facts as many politicians may. It’s not nearly as insiduous as this:

A new e-mail making the rounds among Jewish voters in Pennsylvania this week… equated a vote for Senator Barack Obama with the “tragic mistake” of their Jewish ancestors, who “ignored the warning signs in the 1930’s and 1940’s.”

[This message] had an unusually official provenance: It was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s “Victory 2008” committee.

The William Ayers ties were sort of grasping at straws. The tax stuff is kind of clever, even though Obama’s the one calling for tax cuts for the middle class. But comparing Obama to Hitler? Are you serious?