29 April 2008

Which one can WIN for us?

Much attention has recently been given to a startling new AP-Ipsos poll showing Hillary Clinton defeating John McCain by the robust margin of 50%-41%, while Barack Obama beats him by a mere 46%-44% -- a statistical tie. Less attention has been given to a matter of vastly more practical significance: the geographical distribution of votes in each case, and the effects thereof upon the all-important Electoral College.

270 electoral votes are needed to attain the Presidency. In an Obama-McCain contest, Obama trails McCain by 243 electoral votes to 269, with 26 electoral votes (those of North Carolina and Indiana) too close to call. In a Clinton-McCain contest, Clinton crushes McCain, 291-247.

Of course I know that polls six months before election day are not predictive in detail. But these maps reveal an underlying reality which is highly unlikely to change. The demographic groups who strongly prefer Clinton over Obama include the white working-class voters who are heavily concentrated in large swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Missouri -- as well as Jewish and Hispanic voters, who are a major factor in Florida. Obama badly alienates these voters, many of whom would be open to the appeal of a candidate like McCain if Obama were the Democratic nominee. Obama's strongest supporters, by contrast, would reduce McCain's margin of victory in a number of red states, but this would have no practical effect in the Electoral College.

Look again at the AP-Ipsos poll. 21% of Obama supporters say they would vote for McCain over Clinton if she were nominated -- but 30% of Clinton supporters say that they would do the same if Obama were to be chosen. In reality, both of these figures would doubtless shrink in the real election; just as conservatives with severe misgivings about McCain rallied around him after the New York Times published an ill-considered hit piece focusing on his connections with lobbyists, so liberals would rally around the eventual Democratic nominee once he or she was chosen and came under concerted Republican attack. But Obama would have a more difficult task reunifying the party than Clinton would.

I've already detailed why I think Clinton would make the better President. Since then, Obama has been hobbled by the Wright issue and by his gaffe about working-class people "clinging" to their values out of despair (and who knows how many more such gaffes he might make in six months?). Clinton is now clearly emerging as more electable against McCain, while the Democratic popular vote is essentially tied. In every respect she is the superior candidate. This reality may be dawning on the party rank and file at last; this SUSA poll shows Obama's once-commanding lead over Clinton in North Carolina reduced to a mere five percentage points.

Let's hope our superdelegates prove equally wise.


27 April 2008

So much for stereotypes

We now have a black man running for President who gets accused of being an elitist and a wimp, and a woman running for President who gets accused of being too ruthless and ambitious. Who'd have thought it?


26 April 2008

Well, gosh!

The Cuss-o-meter has been showing up on blogs everywhere, so I thought I'd give it a try. If you haven't seen it before, it's a program that measures what percentage of the postings on your website or blog contain obscene language.

I scored 0.2% (that is, 0.2% of my postings contain profanity) -- spectacularly better, I must say, than the average figure of 9%. Since right now I have about 1,050 postings, 0.2% would be just two postings -- and I think there have been a couple of times when I let comments through that contained swear words which were used in a non-offensive way, so that probably accounts for those.

People who actually like swearing and take pride in doing it (I call them "cusstards") are a dominating presence in the blogosphere, but I very much doubt that their habits in face-to-face interaction mirror their internet practice. Think how startling, and tiresome, it would be if profanity were even one-tenth as common in the real world as it is on the net.

Pop goes the world

A few of my favorite pop-music videos from other lands. For any-one who doesn't know this yet, you can get a full-screen version of any YouTube video by clicking on the icon at the lower right that looks like a rectangle with a smaller rectangle in its upper left.

Shvaine (Pigs) by Glukoza -- sung in Russian.

Yulya (Julia) by XS -- sung in Ukrainian.

Dragostea din Tei (Through the Linden Trees) by O-Zone -- sung in Romanian.

Neobyknovennaya (Uncommon) by Panayotov, Chumakov, & Alekhno -- sung in Russian.

Oi Zahrai My Muzychenku by Ruslana Lyzychko -- sung in Ukrainian.

Tubthumping by Chumbawamba -- sung in English.

Scatterlings of Africa by Juluka -- sung in English and Zulu.

Danzing by Verka Serduchka -- sung in English, German, Russian, and the Devil knows what else.

Moskva (Moscow) by Glukoza -- sung in Russian.

La Danse des Mots (The Dance of Words) by Jean-Baptiste Mondino -- sung in French.

Sucariya (Candy) by Roni Duani -- sung in Hebrew.

Crackerbox Palace by George Harrison -- sung in English.

Takogo kak Putin (Someone like Putin) by "The Putin Girls" -- sung in Russian.

Unbeschreiblich Weiblich (Indescribably Feminine) by Nina Hagen -- sung in German (a song in praise of abortion!).

Zhenikha Khotela (She Wanted a Husband) by Verka Serduchka & Glukoza -- sung in Russian.

The D'Ampton Worm Song by Machado & Powys -- sung in English (strictly speaking this isn't a music video but a clip from the great film Lair of the White Worm).

Update section

Kak Ya Lyublyu (As I Love) by Larisa Chernikova -- sung in Russian.

Melancholie by Mylene Farmer -- sung in French.


25 April 2008

Quote for the day

"In Lubbock, Texas – Lubbock Comma Texas, the heart of Texas conservatism – they dislike President Bush. He has lost them. I was there and saw it. Confusion has been followed by frustration has turned into resentment, and this is huge. Everyone knows the president's poll numbers are at historic lows, but if he is over in Lubbock, there is no place in this country that likes him. I made a speech and moved around and I was tough on him and no one – not one – defended or disagreed. I did the same in North Carolina recently, and again no defenders. I did the same in Fresno, Calif., and no defenders, not one. He has left on-the-ground conserva-tives – the local right-winger, the town intellectual reading Burke and Kirk, the old Reagan committeewoman – feeling undefended, unrepresented and alone. This will have impact down the road."


24 April 2008

A personal note

Long-time readers have probably noticed that over the last couple of months, my postings have become fewer and farther between. The reason is quite simple.

I live in an apartment, and the new neighbors in the unit on one side of me like to play loud music. As readers can tell from the time stamps on most of my postings, I'm an "early to bed, early to rise" kind of guy. I usually get home from work around 7:00 and go to sleep around 9:00, seldom even turning on the computer in between. My creative time is in the morning.

My new neighbors have rendered this lifestyle impossible. I am routinely woken up not only at 10:00 or 11:00, but sometimes even well after midnight. Five written complaints to the building management have produced only rather meager and temporary improvements in the situation. One afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I actually had to ask the boss at my job to let me go home early on the grounds that drowsiness due to loss of sleep the previous night was making it impossible to concentrate on my work -- something I have never previously done in my entire life. Besides loss of sleep, the situation has led to stress, headaches, and irritability which I daily struggle to avoid venting at people around me.

There is, of course, an obvious solution -- and I've been pursuing it. But apartment vacancies in the Portland area are rare (don't get me started on the idiotic policies of the local "planner class" which have discouraged new apartment construction), and I've been focusing on a particular part of the city in hopes of shortening my commute. This week I received a quasi-offer of a new home that sounds ideal, but won't be available for move-in until early June.

So the Infidel will be back at full power in the future -- it just won't be for a few more weeks. Until then, posting will likely be sporadic. I need to sleep when I can.

Link roundup for 24 April 2008

The new logo of the British Office of Government Commerce is a little unfortunate (link sent by CP of Portland). And don't forget the immortal logo of the Brazilian Institute for Oriental Studies (scroll down a bit -- it's supposed to be the Sun with an Asian building in front).

The creationist/ID propaganda movie Expelled is turkeying out at the box office.

Read this primer on hiring women employees.

This guy seems to be getting himself pretty worked up.

Here's the world's oldest known tree -- twice the age of the Great Pyramid (link sent by Masterblurber).

An Australian gives his impressions of England.

I bet this kind of thing happens more often than we realize. Give people the benefit of the doubt!

Hot Lard presents the parable of the bird feeder.

After Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton's case for the nomination hinges on electability. Her strengthening position deepens the superdelegates' dilemma. Jed Babbin says that Obama can't beat McCain; here's an argument that it's time for him to drop out. I'm seeing rising support for the Gore option. Clinton and (to some extent) Obama are moving toward realism on the Middle East.

Britain is allowing cancer patients who are dying anyway to try new treatments even if they're not yet fully approved -- what have they got to lose, after all?

I'm impressed with this guide for distinguishing pseudoscience from real science (found via Handmaiden).

Here's more on why scientists increasingly think that intelligent life is very rare in the universe (I still believe we are probably the universe's first and therefore only intelligent species).

The US military is joining the battle to give humans the ability to regrow lost body parts (found via Sentient Developments).

Artificial eyes are being implanted in blind patients in Britain.

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23 April 2008


Final numbers don't seem to be up yet, but the result is roughly 54.5% Clinton to 45.5% Obama, with the nine-point difference representing over 200,000 votes. The percentages are similar to those for Ohio, suggesting that the result reflects Pennsylvania's similarly Clinton-friendly demographics rather than any sudden understanding of Obama's profound vulnerabilities in the general election.

Nevertheless, it shows once again that Clinton is more appealing than Obama to the swing voters in the swing states where the general election will actually be decided.

The popular-vote margin has narrowed dramatically. If Florida and Michigan are counted (which they certainly should be in evaluating the candidates' popularity -- those are real voters, whatever the squabbles between their state party leaders and the national party), then RCP's count actually has Clinton ahead by 121,943. This is misleading since it omits the 238,168 "undecided" votes in Michigan, the majority of whom must have been Obama supporters. But even if most of those votes are tallied to Obama, his popular-vote lead is significantly under 100,000 -- out of more than 30,000,000 cast. (Yes, thirty million. One out of every ten Americans has voted in a Democratic primary or caucus, and out of people old enough to vote, it's more like one out of every seven.)

So the popular vote -- counting everyone who actually voted -- is practically a tie. And Clinton is more popular than Obama in the swing states. That's her case to the superdelegates. Hope is still very much alive.


22 April 2008

Today may settle our country's future

Today Pennsylvania holds its primary.

If Obama wins (unlikely) or gets to within 10 percentage points of Clinton (very possible -- the polls have been all over the map), then he will have almost certainly clinched the Democratic nomination. And if he is the nominee, as I've discussed here and here, then McCain will almost certainly be our next President. Think about what that would mean.

It would mean Roe vs. Wade swept away, and the Supreme Court dominated by reactionaries for decades. It would mean four to eight more years of "signing statements", scientific illiteracy backed by government power, and erosion of the separation of church and state. It would mean no action on national health care for at least as long. It would mean a foreign policy that would make Bush look like a non-interventionist. It would mean a man whose belligerent temper seriously worries a number of his fellow Senators being in charge of 10,000 nuclear weapons. It would mean a hands-off approach to the outsourcing of jobs overseas, and perhaps a revival of last year's illegal-alien amnesty (which McCain sponsored), to complete the destruction of the American working class's standard of living.

That's the future we face if Obama does well in Pennsylvania today.

If Clinton wins solidly, then the contest will go on, at least until Indiana and North Carolina vote two weeks from now. Clinton may reach the convention with a slight majority of the popular vote, or at least draw close enough to make her case to the superdelegates compelling.

Every major political factor is aligned this year for a Democrat to win the Presidency. All we need is the right nominee. We have one candidate who might well win in November, and another who cannot. Everything hinges on the choice between the two. Today, Pennsylvania may settle that choice -- for us all.


21 April 2008

Michael's questions

I've been looking at the blog of Michael Graham Richard, who wrote a comment on my posting about prayer (below this one). His most recent posting is a list of seven interesting questions which he invites readers to answer.

1. What would you nominate as the best idea that anybody has ever had? Why?

I'd have to nominate Darwin's theory of evolution via natural selection. It confronted us with the most revolutionary insight in human history so far: the insight that we humans are animals, blood relatives of the other great apes and ultimately of all the life on this planet. It's the underpinning of most of modern science. It permeates the way scientifically-literate humans understand the universe.

2. What non-fiction book do you think everybody should read? Why?

My choice is Ending Aging by Aubrey de Grey (see my review here). Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near is more profound in its vision of the long-term human future, but Ending Aging calls our attention to the most profound achievement that could be brought about by a concerted effort right now. In an important sense there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who have gotten it through their heads that ending aging and death is imminently possible and those who haven't.

3. What fiction book do you think everybody should read? Why?

There are so many one could choose! And tastes in fiction are inevitably idiosyncratic. But I'd go with Household Gods by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove. It's the story of a modern American woman who is transported back in time and lives for over a year in a border town of the Roman Empire. Clearly well-researched, it gives you both a real appreciation for Roman civili-zation and an understanding of the vast gulf which separates the modern world from even the most advanced pre-modern cultures. Close runner-up: the best science-fiction novel I've ever read, The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

4. What technology has most changed your life in the past 10 years and why? What technology do you think will have the biggest impact on your life in the next 10 years and why?

For the last ten years, without question, it's the internet. For the next ten years, I expect it would be either further refinements of the internet, or (if they happen) major advances in anti-aging technology. I'm only 47 now, but there are people I care about who are older.

5. What piece of music would you want with you on a desert island (that has a functioning stereo, of course)?

My answer to this would vary endlessly depending on what I'd just listened to before hearing the question.

6. What is the most interesting thing you are working on/reading about/writing about these days?

Reading about: the various technological innovations that point the way to the Singularity.

7. Looking ahead, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Why?

Definitely an optimist. Almost every aspect of human life is getting steadily better and better, and the trend is accelerating. I expect it will continue to do so.


20 April 2008

The illogic of prayer

I've never understood the logic of praying to an omniscient deity.

Prayer is basically a request to God, asking him to do, or allow, something you want. Most Christians seem to do this on a fairly routine basis. God, please heal my child. God, please let me get that promotion. God, please make this lottery ticket a winner.

But why bother? If God is omniscient, he already knows what you want, and how much you want it, and whether or not you deserve to get it. The fact that you asked him for it adds exactly nothing to the set of data he will presumably use in deciding whether to give it to you or not.

So what's the point?


Video break

Because we can all use a laugh.....

Handmaiden presents the perfect sequel to the creationist/ID propaganda movie Expelled.

Vamp's World has an alert about another pedophile cult leader, a chat with Richard Dawkins, and some preachers making more sensible noises than usual.

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16 April 2008

The Bible, 123'd

After I posted this, Mary Ellen added a comment:

I did this one already and it was fun. It's a good thing I didn't have my Bible right next to me, I might have accidentally evangelized someone. Yikes!

This made me curious to see what the result would be if someone actually did this. In my copy of the Bible (KJV), page 123 falls within the Book of Numbers. Figuring what constitutes a single sentence as best I can in the face of the book's unconventional usage of punctuation, for the three sentences following the fifth sentence, I get this:

"Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up unto the valley of Eshcol, and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the children of Israel, that they should not go into the land which the Lord had given them. And the Lord's anger was kindled the same time, and he sware, saying, Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not wholly followed me: Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite, and Joshua the son of Nun: for they have wholly followed the Lord."

So there you have it.


15 April 2008

Link roundup for 15 April 2008

Mendip has a couple of good links on Werner von Braun. See also this about Switzerland.

Also found via Mendip: online advertising as Rube Goldberg might have designed it.

Jabberwock has posted another great Chick tract dissection.

Hot Lard posts a passel of Wal-Mart posters (if you don't get the references to the disabled woman's case, read this and this).

The media's interest in this story shows that they don't grasp the concept of coincidence.

A small British village achieves food self-sufficiency.

American-made Skyy vodka responds to the Absolut ad I linked earlier. Here's another reaction.

Los Angeles citizens take a stand against the city's lenient policy on illegal-alien crime.

Republicans now see Obama as easy prey in the general election. Aside from Wright, "Bittergate" will resonate in the swing states. Democratic superdelegates have good reason to wait and watch.

Samizdata ruminates on the significance of Muslims leaving Islam.

He Who Zings Rats is visiting our country this week -- and plans to pray for Muslim terrorists at Groud Zero.

Check out these FBI hate-crime statistics. Contrary to what some might expect, anti-Muslim crimes are still much rarer than anti-Semitic ones.

Outrageous religious bigotry erupts in the Illinois legislature (found via Masterblurber, and don't forget this).

An Olympic torchbearer manages to protest for Tibet.

Here's a report on the FLDS polygamist compound recently raided by Texas officials.

Fight Aging looks at current research on mitochondrial DNA and the aging process.

Even today's crude nanotechnology is showing promise in the repair of spinal-cord injuries and in high-resolution medical scanning.

Here's a form of healthy exercise that shouldn't be too difficult to stick with regularly.

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11 April 2008

The road to defeat

Until March, I felt pretty confident that the Democratic party would retake the executive branch this year and put an end to the Republican reign of ignorance and incompetence. I'm now much more pessimistic. Here's why.

(1) The Wright connection makes Obama unelectable in November. It doesn't matter what the polls are currently saying, or what the head-to-head Obama-McCain matchups are currently showing (essentially a tie, as do the Clinton-McCain matchups), or that the media are pushing the line that Obama has "weathered the storm" and put the problem behind him. The Wright affair is a fatal blow; Obama's speech did not answer the real questions. If Obama is the nominee, the Republicans will use Wright against him with devastating effect. The Wright weapon will be especially effective at destroying Obama in the eyes of the centrist blue-collar voters who are heavily concentrated in swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania -- where the election will be decided. Furious denunciations of those who raise this point do not change the reality of the situation. If Obama is our nominee, then barring some very unlikely development, McCain will win in November and continue leading the nation along the disastrous trail blazed by Bush, while completing the wrecking of the Supreme Court.

Notice that my argument here does not depend on whether or not the Wright connection actually implies anything negative about Obama's own character; I think it does, but that isn't the point. The point is that, rightly or wrongly, it renders him unable to win the general election. That being the case, he must not become the Democratic nominee. This may seem unfair, but the stakes are too high to allow any other decision. The need to prevent the disaster of another Republican administration is more important than the ambitions of any one individual.

(Let me make an analogy. I'm an atheist, but I would not want the Democratic party to nominate an avowed atheist for President, because he almost certainly could not win the general election. This would be unfair to such a candidate, but it is the reality of the situation. Nominating an avowed atheist would mean a Republican victory in November, therefore the party should not do it.)

(2) The Democratic party rank and file does not realize that the Wright connection makes Obama unelectable in November. Most polls suggest that the Democratic base has bought into the "weathered the storm" narrative. With several states including Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Indiana, and my own state of Oregon yet to vote, it's still too early to predict the outcome of what remains a close race; but no poll of Democratic voters that I have seen has shown the kind of massive turning away from Obama that would indicate that these voters grasp the danger. Obama retains a lead, however slim, in popular votes and delegates. If the race continues along its current trajectory, he will be the nominee and will duly go down to defeat in November.

This leaves two obvious questions: Does the party establishment, including the superdelegates, understand the threat which the rank and file does not? And if so, will they have the guts to do anything about it? I see no evidence one way or the other on either of these questions.

If the superdelegates now realize (or come to realize before the convention) that Obama is unelectable, they still have it in their power to deny him the nomination. Whether they would have the courage to do so is quite another matter. His highly-enthusiastic supporters would be disappointed and angry, especially if he still led in popular votes and pledged delegates at that time.

That's why Clinton must continue to fight on -- the more she can narrow Obama's lead, or especially if she manages to take the lead in popular votes, the easier it will be for the superdelegates to do the right thing for the party and for the nation, in order to prevent a Republican victory in November.

I hope, of course, that "to do the right thing" will mean nominating Clinton. However, even as a Clinton supporter, I must recognize that this may not be the case. It may be that Obama's supporters would accept some such compromise nominee more readily than they would accept Clinton -- and would thus be more willing to vote for that nominee in November (there is, after all, an obvious choice for such a compromise). If so, then that is what the party must do. It would be terribly unfair to Clinton, but again, the need to prevent the disaster of another Republican administration is more important than the ambitions of any one individual.

A superdelegate-led coronation of Clinton or of a compromise candidate would be a radical and risky path for the party to take. The nomination of Obama, by contrast, is the easy road, the straight road, the obvious road. It is the road to defeat.

Update (13 April 2008): Read this too.


08 April 2008

Printing out the future

A research team based in New Zealand, Britain, and the US has developed a remarkable new 3D printer which has encouraging implications for the future of technology.

The RepRap printer prints three-dimensional objects, including components which can be assembled into more complex devices. That, in itself, is not new; the use of printer-like technology to produce physical objects and even organic structures is a young but established and rapidly-advancing field. What's remarkable about the RepRap printer is that it can make copies of itself. Every component of the printer can itself be produced on the printer. The actual assembly of the components presumably has to be done by a human, but this is nevertheless a major step toward a true self-replicating machine -- which makes it also a major step toward the Drexlerian vision of nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing and the world of limitless abundance those things will provide.

It's still a huge challenge to develop machines far more complex than printers which are both (1) capable of true self-replication including assembly, and (2) comparable in size to bacteria, but it has always been the self-replication that struck me as the more daunting of the two parts of the problem. We have been building simple nano-scale machines for some time, after all. Now self-replication, too, has taken a step out of imagination and into reality.


07 April 2008

The book-123 thing

I don't usually do these, but this one's easy:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

The actual nearest book to me right at this moment is an English-German dictionary and doesn't have sentences, but taking the second-nearest, I get:

"Figure 1 gives a graphical depiction of this cycle. These enzymes would give new powers to our cellular recycling centers, allowing them to process materials that currently go undegraded within us -- not just preventing, but reversing their pathological accumulation. Our brains would be cleared of neurofibrillary tangles; the dying macrophages in our arteries would gain new life, letting them clear out the oxidized LDL toxins and allowing the necrotic vessel tissue to finally heal; the blind would see."

I'm not the tagging kind, though -- if anyone reading this feels inclined to give it a shot, consider yourself tagged.

04 April 2008

Link roundup for 4 April 2008

Scientists are trying to develop self-catching fish.

This is perhaps taking "What would Jesus do?" a little too far. More commentary here.

Air travelers already suffer from boredom, arbitrary security rules, and Republican-infested restrooms.....and now there's this.

Remember this outrageous story? Well, Mall-Wart has backed down in the face of the public outcry.

Cuba is now lifting its ban on household appliances (found via Masterblurber).

Germany intends to join the pro-Tibetan boycott of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. Note that Poland and the Czech Republic, which have some recent experience with tyranny, are already on board. Anne Applebaum makes the case for a boycott; here's a look at what's happening to Tibet.

British atheist Danny Carr is trying to get de-baptised (found via Vamp's World).

A Pittsburgh newspaperman reassesses Hillary Clinton. Her voters may bolt if Obama is nominated. The Boston Globe suggests a way out (see here too), while the Gore option is gaining attention. The high Democratic turnout is promising, but we need to catch the wave of populism. Ultimately the superdelegates must choose the most electable candidate.

If you decide to take up vodka, don't drink Absolut (Update: here's a list of other products of the same parent company).

Der Spiegel denounces European cowardice. Andre Glucksmann and Bernard-Henri Lévy call for a stand against the new fascism.

Were the Flores hominids victims of disease?

We're making impressive progress on cellular regeneration (found via Mendip).

Here's another small step toward Drexlerian nanotechnology.

George Dvorsky has tips on surviving long enough to benefit from the longevity revolution.

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