Saturday, June 26, 2004

why you should never believe the polls

The Washington Post recently ran a long, in-depth discussion about Bush-Kerry polls, including an call-in sessions with the pollsters where people could AIM in questions. Included was this exchange:

Minneapolis, Minn.: I never took stats. What does margin of error really mean?

Richard Morin & Claudia Deane: It's not too late to sign up! And statistians are viewed as hot, hot, hot by the opposite sex!

We have prepared a detailed explanation of sampling [...]

Well, so much for their credibility....

Pessimism and rage vs unintentional irony

The news today is about Dubya's latest ad, "Kerry's Coalition of the Wild-Eyed", which intersperses comments from Gore, Dean and others slamming Bush with shots of Hitler. And then ends with "Now is not the time for pessimism and rage ... ". Now, I'd have have thought it would impossible for Bush to both compare Democrats to Hitler and critize them for negative campaiging in the same 30second spot. I guess anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Interestingly this is the same day that Cheney is in the news for telling Senator Leahy to f**k himself. From another source,

"I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt better after I had done it," Cheney told broadcast sources. Cheney said those who heard the putdown agreed with him. "I think that a lot of my colleagues felt that what I had said badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue."

Unfortunately, the direction the country's heading is not particularly funny: regardless of who wins or loses in November I don't see when or how we're going to get away from this take-to-prisoners sort of partisan warfare. We're all red or blue, and nobody's even a little bit purple. I don't know if it's helping Bush to continually bash Kerry, but at this point I think it's hurting Demos to keep pounding at Bush quite as bitterly as they often do. For one thing, political discussions now seem to quickly devolve into whether or not Bush is, in fact, the anti-Christ, which a relatively difficult preposition to conclusively establish, let alone find common ground on.

Admittedly, I sympathize with the rage, and even from time to time start wondering myself about the various conspiracy theories. Bush is easy to rage against - although he made a point of sounding moderate in the election, since then he's cozied up quite soundly with the Republican hard-core...and if you don't know what that's really like, I strongly recommend you look into it. For instance, read about the Texas GOP platform. But I think part of the polarity is that it's just so darn easy now to find news sources that you agree with. It used to be that if you wanted to follow sports you needed to look at the news, but now you can watch only the news you believe in. There's a recent survey which is very revealing...for instance, Republicans are twice as likely to believe "all or most news" from Fox than the NY Times. If nobody listens to the center - let alone opposing viewpoints - it's no wonder that the left and right are progressively more and more divergent, and progressively more and more at odds with each other.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Violent disagreement over which way to spin

The papers and blogs the last few days are full of disagreement about the 9/11 commission's report - basically arguing if the commission supports Bush or doesn't. If you get past the first paragraph in any story, it usually just noise about semantics, e.g., did al Qaeda and Iraq collaborate, or just communicate, and what constitutes a threat.

What I wonder is, why is there so much effort to tell us what to think about the report? It's only a few pages long, I'd hope most people would actually read it for themselves. And the part on Iraq is only a paragraph which can be summarized as: three known contacts around 1994; requests for help from bin Laden to Iraq which were not accepted; unconfirmed reports of contacts since then, and denial of "ties" from "two senior bin Laden associates". The paragraph ends: "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the US".

But don't take my word for it - read the report, which is pretty interesting anyway, and make up your own mind.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Draft beer, not programmers

While I'm in the blogging mood...Kerry's been on the stump about the "backdoor draft", and rumours have been racing around about reviving the draft for a while. Here's what the guy with two sons worked out about this from poking around for a while, a few weeks ago.

It is a fact that legislation is pending in congress to reinstate the draft. The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by a man my sister once worked for, South Carolina's own Fritz Hollings. (Yes, she was a legal intern, or something, and no, it wasn't like that.) News reports at the time suggested that it was some sort of political strategem to make the president "sqirm" although, in light of recent events, that seems rather quaint.

Practically, short-term manpower issues are likely to be helped with a draft, due to long training times...that's why the inactive Army reserves are being hit, and why it's getting harder and harder for trained soldiers to actually leave. Long-term manpower issues? I don't want to think about it.

Apparently the biggest shortages currently are for computer programmers, and linguists. I'm starting to regret having Charlie learn Hebrew, but at least it wasn't Arabic.

another "how to make good news sound bad"

I've spent a bunch of time poking into various conservative blogs and bboards, trying to figure out why anyone still actively supports Bush. I'm sure liberals have made all sorts of mistakes too - maybe some of them really do hope the war in Iraq goes badly for the US! - but as more and more of the smoke clears, the more creepy Bush and his cohorts seem. To me, anyway. The souvenir Saddam handgun, I guess you can forgive - I mean, he's got to keep up with the Cheney's, and Dick's souvenir piece of 9/11 debris. The stories that Cheney has been greasing the wheels for Haliburton contracts are still rumours. And perhaps there's a sound, reasonable legal reason Bush needs to consult a lawyer before he testifies to that grand jury investigating that CIA operative's "outing", even though he's said in public that he knows nothing about it. Sure, legal analysis say that this probably means he's hiding something, but law is so complicated, you never can be sure. Personally, I kinda dislike the way the campaign is being conducted so far - after all, why isn't Kerry allowed to change his mind over 26 years? Bush certainly does - but I guess if I was a registered GOP member I'd consider it all fair play.

But these are all pretty personal reactions, after all - this is America, after all, we're all entitled to our opinions, and people have all sorts of opinions, so I wasn't to surprised to see a recent CBS poll titled "CBS Poll: Vets Favor Bush" bandied about the blogsphere. The title sounds like bad news, to me anyway, but buried deep inside is the tidbit that the current vote choice of all registered voters is Kerry 49%, Bush 41%.

Interestingly, according to the poll, even vets - who tend historically to go Republican, and many of whom are still very bitter about Kerry's anti-war comments - aren't thrilled with Bush's performance on specifics. Less than half approve of his performance handling Iraq, or foreign policy. And a much large percentage than the general public think that "higher level military" should be help responsible for the prison abuse scandal (vs "soldiers involved" - I wonder what the response would be if "civilian military leadership" was one of the options?)

What bothers me about the poll is that a plurality of Americans (and of vets) believe the US should "turn control over to Iraqis now", which sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. Any way you slice it, it's a fiasco - even if Saddam had WMD, we certainly didn't find any. So, even if you believe Bush's claims from last year, said now WMD are cached in under a turkey farm somwhere, waiting to be dug god-knows-when by god-knows-who...this is better? But regardless of whether how we got there, the idea of a 25M person power vacuum in the Middle East is so clearly a bad idea that we've clearly got to stick around, until the country has some sort of effective government. I surprised we haven't seen more analysis of the links between the surge in anti-US violence in Iraq and the surge in anti-Western violence next door, in Saudi Arabia. They certainly seems to be a correlation, and it's not difficult to imagine a causal link here.