Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Why I Support Donald Trump for the GOP Nomination

April 21, 2016

I’m not a registered Republican.  For that matter I’m not a registered Democrat either.  In fact, I’m not a registered member of any party. I think California currently calls people like me “no party preference.” It used to be “declines to state.”  I like the sound of that one better. Chances are pretty good that I’ll vote for the Democratic presidential candidate this year.  It’s not that I have a warm or even tepid regard for the Democratic candidates.  It’s because of the Republican candidates.  Most GOP presidential candidates are just repellent.  This year, the two leading Republican hopefuls appeal to the side of human nature that’s usually the raw material of sensationally brutal and senseless crimes.  What we’ve got here, folks, is a sociopath and a guy with borderline personality disorder.  The sociopath, Cruz, is what they call in crime fiction an organized offender while the BPD guy, Trump, is a disorganized offender.

If either of these guys wins the presidential election we’re doomed or, even worse, doomded.  The good news is that, at least according to current polls, neither stands a chance against a Democrat who can walk, talk, and doesn’t drool too much.  Naturally I’d like the less likely winner to run.  I think Big D is my man.  I’m backing him, at least in the fight for the nomination, 101%.  I’d like to go 110% but that’s impossible since 100% is an absolute maximum.  I think the extra 1% is within sampling error so I’m sticking with it.

I urge all like minded citizens to follow my example.

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Michael Gerson, Sabermetrics, and Election Results

November 10, 2012

In Michael Gerson’s November 5 column in the Washington Post he takes on people who use math models to predict election results.  He says that problem with this method that it is not only ” pseudo-scientific but that it is trivial.”  He uses Nate Silver’s method as an example calling it ” little more than weighting and aggregating state polls and combining them with various historical assumptions to project a future outcome.”  He argues that this sort of analysis reduces political science to the prediction of election results without considering the things that motivate people to form opinions and make decisions.  He calls political science a “division of the humanities.”

Gerson’s argument reminds me of the baseball establishment’s reaction to the application of statistical techniques to baseball.  Baseball stats have been around since the dawn of the professional game.  In the 1940s and early 1950s general manager Branch Rickey used some predictive techniques that weren’t widely publicized.  In the early 1960s a storm broke when retired metallurgist Earnshaw Cook published a book called “Percentage Baseball,” which was the first attempt to subject the game to mathematical analysis.  Cook, like many pioneers, made some large mistakes.  He also was right about many things.  Baseball managers and executives railed against Cook’s ideas on baseball strategy.  One area where he was undeniably correct was that the bunt is generally a bad idea except under certain conditions when a team needs to score a single run late in a game.  Cook’s big mistakes were a method of  setting  a batting order that doesn’t maximize scoring and a system for using pitchers that, while similar to the way teams use pitchers today, is not compatible with the human body or the amount of pitching talent available on most teams.  The common theme in the reaction of the baseball establishment was that baseball transcended numbers.  Gerson said something very similar, “An election is not a mathematical equation; it is a nation making a decision.”

In the 1970s Bill James, Pete Palmer and others developed better methods of analysis and prediction for baseball.  James coined the term “sabermetrics” from the acronym SABR for the Society for American Baseball Research, a group that started out with a historical emphasis and broadened its approach to include the statistical analysis that was becoming more popular.  The book Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, and the recent movie of the same name chronicled the application of sabermetric techniques to running a baseball team.  The baseball establishment reacted to Billy Beane’s use of  math the same way it did to Cook’s book.  Beane’s Oakland Athletics became very successful because Beane used analytical conclusions to try to find the best bargains in player talent.  Other teams weren’t doing that.  Today most teams use some sabermetric analysis in assessing talent, considering the value of trades, etc.

Gerson laments the popularity of numerical analysis in political science today.  He talks about scholarly journals being filled with “a profusion of numbers and formulas more suited to the study of physics.”  He believes that politics is “mainly the realm of ethics — the study of justice, human nature, moral philosophy and the common good.”  One problem with the ethical focus is that people don’t necessarily consider ethics or justice in forming their political opinions.  Some vote their wallet.  Others vote the candidates’ appearance.  The Nixon Kennedy debate is a reminder that the electorate, as a group, isn’t quite as high minded as the average scholar.

It’s certainly possible that some of the journal articles attempt to quantify things that are difficult to quantify, especially when the subject at hand doesn’t have a precise, readily agreed upon definition.  That’s a common flaw in psychological research.  Where Gerson is wrong is in downplaying the significance of numerical analysis.  The outcome of elections is something people find interesting.  If the best results so far have come from black box techniques that ignore the actual decision making process, the predictive value of the techniques is both interesting and useful.  The canonical black box approach is the use of input to predict output without being concerned with what happens in between.  Stuff goes into the black box.  We don’t know what the black box does with it.  We do know that something comes out.  If we can predict the output of the black box on the basis of the input we know something.   Sometimes we can use that knowledge to open the lid of the box.

The Society for American Baseball Research has never abandoned its historical and biographical work.  There’s still a great deal of interest in the human side of baseball.  Members write papers and books on baseball history and biography all the time.  The Society also has many members whose primary interest is statistical.  The  Society recognizes both approaches as interesting.  Gerson wants political science to ignore those whose interest is in quantifying and prediction and stick with the philosophical approach that he favors.  It’s reminiscent of the old mathematicians’ toast, “Here’s to pure mathematics.  May she never be of use to anyone.”  Of course, eventually someone almost always finds an application for the most esoteric area of mathematical abstraction.  If political science is defined the way Gerson wants to define it, there’s no place for numerical analysis or the prediction of political events, whether they’re election results or long term trends.  Admitting numerical analysis broadens the scope of the field.  It may not make pundits obsolete but it just might be able to illuminate punditry in ways that are different from the age old scholastic speculation that’s characterized the field.  Numerical analysis can never tell us everything we want or need to know.  It can tell us some things that other methods can’t.

Although Gerson probably doesn’t think so, this election was an occasion for celebration for pollsters and math modelers.  Almost all of the polls predicted the outcome correctly.  The math modelers did well too.   It’s true, the people who were concerned with predicting the outcome didn’t spend much time on the why.  That doesn’t preclude others from examining those questions.

Obama Wins Nomination on Ninth Ballot

October 9, 2012

Recently delegates put in some serious overtime at the Democratic Convention.  It was 4:15 AM EDT before presidential candidate and current incumbent Barack Obama finally got a majority on the ninth ballot.  It was much more exciting than any convention since the 1920s.  The delegates finally went home at 8:30 AM after selecting Joe Biden as the vice presidential candidate by acclimation and hearing Obama’s two hour and thirty minute acceptance speech.

On the first ballot none of the three presidential hopefuls managed to get a majority.  Obama, Lyndon Johnson, the sprightly zombie, and Barney Frank finished in a virtual tie.  After the sixth ballot Johnson dropped out when it was clear that Frank was developing a commanding lead.  Johnson delighted onlookers  by releasing his delegates to vote their conscience.  It took three more ballots for Obama to grind out  a narrow victory with 51% of the delegates voting for him.  Frank was gracious in defeat and promised to campaign vigorously for Obama.  Sam Rayburn and Hale Boggs of the Johnson camp spoke for LBJ, announcing that he was going to endorse Obama.  Johnson needed to leave the arena to harvest some cerebral tissue.  His staff, taken by surprise by the number of ballots,  hadn’t stocked the meat locker sufficiently.

In his acceptance speech, Obama promised to revitalize the US economy.  He said that on his first day in office the IRS would freeze the Romney family’s offshore assets in preparation for confiscating them.  While this would be, at best a symbolic debt reduction gesture, in the area of Romney related job creation Obama promised to bail out American Motors and bring back the Rambler, AKA “The All American Car.”  The big surprise of the evening/morning was Obama’s announcement of his initiative to revitalize the economy by eliminating organized crime.  He plans to legalize vice on a grand scale thus taking it out of the hands of criminal entrepreneurs.   His plan involves turning intoxicants, gambling, prostitution, and finance over to private enterprise in hopes of breaking the back of the cartels and crime syndicates that currently control these businesses.  He said,

We can cut the deficit to nothing in ten years or fewer by unleashing the American entrepreneurial spirit and taxing the resulting businesses at a moderate rate.  As a bit of lagniappe, we’ll be able to revitalize America’s inner cities by taking away the gangs’ raison d’etre.  I expect that the most egregiously offensive instances of gangsta rap will become historical curiosities as inner city youth finds gainful employment in what we’re calling the “Service Revolution.

Republican rival Mitt Romney was quick to criticize Obama’s initiative.  “My wife Ann often says, ‘I don’t smoke and I don’t chew and I don’t go with guys who do.’  Gambling, drugs, prostitution, and finance are not the path to a healthy economy.”

Pundit Walter Lippman put down his Medulla Martini and said, “This promises to be the most interesting presidential campaign since Strom Thurmond with his ‘gallows on every corner’ platform crossed swords with Henry Wallace and Harry Truman.”