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Friday, October 28, 2016

Understanding polls

This follows a Karl Rove book of several years ago and Catherine Shaw’s Campaign Manager. She is a Democrat.  The first thing to realize in polling is that not everybody votes.  240 million adults over age 18, 187M registered, but only 126.46M voted in 2012 election.  (75% of adults are registered. 65% of Registered vote in typical Pres. election.) The second thing you need to know is that only about 1/3 of the people asked to respond in a poll do so.  Thus, the task of making an accurate data base is difficult.  If Hispanics represent 14% of population but vote 8% of the time, and your poll of 1000 voters had 7% Hispanics, do you weight them by doubling or do you multiply their influence by 1.14? Af-Ams typically vote at 12% of the total vote, but represent 13% of the population.  However, in the Obama years, they voted heavily representing 14% of the total vote.   And do you weight it according to minorities or age or something else?  Seniors vote heavily and millenials vote sporadically. Jews are just 2% of the population but vote at 3% of the total.  Altogether, there is a huge guessing game of weighting the groups and putting in fudge factors to reflect participation. 

You are excused if you are thinking at this point that polls mean nothing. Gallup has dropped out of the Presidential polling, but for none of the above reasons.  It was once easier because the pollsters could get a copy of county voting records.  Voters are listed by party, address, and number of times they have voted.  So if a phone call to an address was picked up and the voter identified themselves, the pollster could assess likelihood of voting.  “Mrs. Jones voted  twice out of the last 4 general elections so she has a probability of showing up this time of ½.”  Cell phones, disposable phones, unlisted numbers have shredded this scheme.  On-the-street interviews are good, but people don’t have time, answer (in public) according to what they think the pollster wants to hear and have very low response rates.  Internet polls have no controls for partisans who do multiple votes.  All of this is chancy science.

Poll results are often all over the map in variation.  Real clear politics takes an average of recent polls to assess a race.  But even if they get more accuracy, they don’t tell you about a very important fact.  When an incumbent is below 47%, even if he’s ahead, he is probably in trouble.  Rove summed this up by studying outcomes versus final polls taken.  If an incumbent polls 48% he has a better than 50% probability of winning.  If it is 43%, this shrinks to less than 10%.  The reason for this is that when people answer a poll and give a well-known incumbent, say, 46%, this means that 54% are looking for “other alternatives.”  Typically the number of undecideds will go 60-85% for the challenger.  So as I write this, Senator Burr of NC and Sen. Ayotte of NH lead their races by a percentage point.  But with 45 and 46% respectively, they are less than half probable of winning. I’ll give you a self-depreciating example of this.  When Steve ran for the House in 2010, the State Republican Party did a 100 person phone poll of our district.  No demographic corrections were done.  They found he was behind 39 to 43%.  Steve thought he had lost and I would have agreed if he’d have shared this with me.  But the state party rejoiced—he had a chance!—and soon he was talking to some big donors for direct mail funds.  It turned out he won by 53-47%.  That is, of the 18 points undecideds (100-39-47=18), he won 14 of them.  (Golly, we were so uneducated about political science when we won that first race!  We didn’t know that the probability of beating a 3rd term House member was less than 1%.  And Luttrell had won with 60% of the vote in 2008!)

They do exit polls on many things.  One question is “how far in advance did you decide to vote for the guy you did?”  Answers vary from “I decided 40 years ago, I’d never vote for another Democrat!” to, “Never heard of him. I didn’t know who I was voting for when I checked his name.” Results are consistent however.  The number of people who decide within the final two weeks of an election is usually 1 or 2%.  Almost everyone has their minds made up two weeks out.  But Television never says this!  Indeed, they broadcast a myth about polls changing radically the last week.  Why? They get advertizing money from campaigns wanting to convince that last tiny group of undecideds.  And campaign season is like the Christmas season for broadcasters.  They make big bucks.  And they spread a myth of the Independent as a careful standoffish voter who can’t decide.  This is only true of about 1 out of 5 Indies.  Indies come in a lot of flavors.  Some are hidden partisans who just don’t want to get in an argument with their dad or wife by joining the other party. So they play coy.  As an Independent they can “constructively” criticize dad’s party.  Or they are at odds with both parties—fiscally conservative but socially liberal, or have some single issue that neither party addresses.  Independents vote only half as often as partisans.

The pollsters and TV guys play a game with viewers, claiming that “polls are tightening in the last week!”  More likely, the pollster knows that his results versus outcome will be measured closely and decide his future business.  He is trying his best to weight for “likely voters” (previous polls were ‘registered voters’ or ‘general public’) and get an accurate poll.  Previous polling done in earlier months for a new organization are often just to feed their talking heads.  Pollsters give the sponsors polls that reflect the sponsors point of view.  They tell them what they want to hear. Changes in polls can then be cited by the news organization for reason for the candidates to spend more money in last minute advertizing. 

And then pollster just sometimes blow it.  Brexit was supposed to have Remain win by 5%.  They lost by 5%.  Reagan was supposed to lose to Carter by 5-10% and won by 12%.  In both cases, enthusiasm was sky high for the eventual winner compared to the loser.  As mentioned, Romney lost because his base didn’t turn out.  That affected the weighting factors.  JFK had huge Catholic turnout which swamped anti-Catholic turnout, but he still wouldn’t have won had he not carried Illinois which was determined by dead people voting in Chicago.  Gore won the popular vote but it was not just FL that killed him with narrow loss.  He narrowly lost his home state of TN—which would have won the election for him.  Botton line: It’s the election that counts.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Luther cockroaches Dems Trump

Secular Libs voted God out of their Democrat platform 8 years ago. No more objective moral standards!  They criticize others (Trump with his sex talk) who have standards but can’t be held to any objective standards themselves because they hold none.  It’s an interesting strategy. But does it meet reality?

             Is anything real?  For if there is reality, reality contains rules and principles.  If it contains rules and principles, there is a reason for science and theology.  If nothing’s real, then all bets are off.  But if there is a reality, there must be some objective standards that govern the universe. Where then can they be found?  All the world’s religions say they are to be found in revelation.  At some place, in some time, in some person, secrets were revealed about how to behave, how to seek further truth, how to live.

            Recent evidence from the emails of Clinton’s staff and Podesta, shows their scorn for Catholicism and Evangelicals. That’s a big enough chunk of Christianity to say that this crew doesn’t think much of Christianity in general.  Or if they do it is just to narrow the scope of their belief like the guy who says “I’m a Christian because I admire Jesus.” Good luck with that stategy in the presence of the Living God.  I think God reveals His almighty, all-knowing nature in the Judeo-Christian scriptures.  The absolute perfection claimed by God quashes any notions of relative one-upsmanship by a human.  This is much like my reaction would be if one talking cockroach stood up and told me he was a more righteous roach than the others—so he should be saved. SQUISH!!

            As we arrive at the 499th anniversary of the Reformation (rather arbitrarily set as Oct. 31, 1517) it might be worthy to note how a terrified monk found grace about 3 years earlier.  Luther read a famous proclamation by Paul in Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel.  It is the power of God for salvation, to everyone who has faith” Of course Luther believed this.  He was a doctor of theology and a monk.  But it was the verse after this that mystified him, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, the righteous shall live by faith.”  To Luther, the righteousness (right living, holiness) of God was a terrible thing to encounter.  How could any human stand in the presence of such a God if God is indeed Just?  This is the same problem, just a differing solution from those who would reject God and any objective morality.  One is terrorized.  The other pretends it doesn’t exist.

            But one night, we think it was in October of 1514, cold enough that Luther lit a fire in his study, he found the answer.  The catalyst was Ps. 70:1 which simply expresses a yearning for deliverance by God, “Be pleased, O God, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me!”  Suddenly Luther saw that God’s terrifying perfection and justice could not be met by any human attempt.  The morality was too great, too demanding.  You couldn’t even remember enough to confess to cover your sin.  But God delivers.  And what Romans is saying is that this is revealed from faith and to it at the same time.  That is, faith (trusting God for deliverance) and trying to act moral shows us all the more how inadequate we are, yet leaves us clinging to God’s deliverance all the tighter—“from faith to faith.  Thus it is not our righteousness that fulfills God’s justice but His own. God was so loving He came to deliver the cockroach humans with His own costly death.   And through faith He hands us this—“the righteous shall live by faith.”  God, not giving us what we deserve is Mercy.  God, giving us what we don’t deserve is Grace. So it is that Christians, forgiven themselves, tend to be a forgiving lot.  When Trump says he isn’t proud of his yap, apologizes, even though he tends to still have trouble controlling his mouth, many of us Evangelicals forgive. 

            The amoralists, weirdly enough, often try to claim a higher moral ground.  They want to save the planet from global warming and pollution.  They are not racist/sexist/homophobic like those deplorable Christians. It is as if they want to create their own new 10 commandments.  And if they find any sexual sin by Christian standards, like bragging about your sexual prowess in an abusive way, they are quick to condemn.  This, despite their own group’s (Bill Clinton, Weiner, Frank, Kennedy and many others) wild malfeasance which draws no ire. It’s worse than roaches.  At least they all run when the light is turned on.

            What we really do need in this country is a revival.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Colombus Part II Epilogue

In the early 16th century, all universities and institutions of learning were run by the church. They wove their ideas about doctrine with their “picture” of the universe.  A new idea was often labeled heresy.  In 1514, a Polish monk who had taken a Latin name, Copericus, speculated about how the sun made a better center of the universe than earth, but he feared so much he didn’t publish his idea, nor was he able to do any mathematical calculations of the orbits.  The accepted model at the time was from Ptolemy, a Roman philosopher.  It held that earth was the center of the universe. The moon didn’t float in space; it was attached to crystal (like totally transparent glass) sphere and revolved around earth as did the sun.  Planets like Mars had a trajectory in the sky that backtracked often as they revolved around earth.  So the thinking was that Mars was attached to a glass sphere that rolled within its main orbital sphere—a ball rolling within a ball—hence the retrograde motion.  All this was only approximate.  Astronomers had to speed up and slow down certain planets to make measurements fit.  The stars were fixed on a faraway sphere. 

An Italian, Geordano Bruno, overheard Copernicus and began to openly talk about a solar system.  He went to England as a visiting scholar (though he was later found to be a fraud).  An Austrian court poet, Joachim Vadianus, published a pamphlet advocating a round earth composed of both earth and water in spherical shape.  It was unread except by a certain Phillip Melancthon, Europe’s leading Greek scholar, who was tasked at Wittenberg College to teach the President, Martin Luther Biblical Greek, and to revamp the curriculum.  Melancthon published a textbook on astronomy with an illustration of Round Earth saying this was the only explanation possible (a pear earth would wobble).  Meanwhile Bruno made it back to Italy, was tried by the Inquisition and burned at the stake.  And then Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation,  Catholic scholars pointed to Melancthon’s book and surely this proved that the rebels were heretics. After all, if the earth moved, there would be a headwind and birds would be blown off trees! 

But an English mathematician, Digges wrote an explanation in his father’s almanac that Bruno wasn’t so dumb.  Motion is relative.  If you hang a plumbline on a moving boat, it doesn’t stream off the end of the boat.  There was no profession of “scientist”  at this time.  All these natural philosophers were just bookkeepers (Galileo), mathematicians (Kepler, Brahe) or munitions designers (Napier).  The Protestant world of merchants and farmers, with its reliance on a personal walk with God, was much more open to new ideas than the Catholics who ran universities with philosophers. Finally in 1543, Copernicus assented to publication of his book upon his death. He was friends with Luther.  They lived just over 100 miles apart.

In 1571, Tycho Brahe, a young Danish mathematician noticed  a new star in the constellation Cassiopea.  Day by day it grew brighter until it was visible by day (a supernova).  Brahe used parallax triangulation to measure the distance.  It had zero parallax and hence it was in the far heavens.  This was stunning.  God lived out there and the highest heavens were supposed to be unchangeable!  But Brahe had done an accurate calculation of something everybody had seen. The Danish king took Brahe under his wing and bought him the best instruments available.  In 1577, a comet appeared and Brahe calculated distances as it traveled, apparently piercing the Ptolemaic spheres! The Jesuits argued vehemently against this Protestant, but then a German, Johannas Kepler, 1604, used Brahe’s highly accurate measurements of the orbit of Mars to show three laws of planetary motion that absolutely killed the old Ptolemaic theory. When the Italian, Galileo observed the phases of Venus in 1610, the new solar system was proven beyond a  shadow of doubt.  The sun was the center with planets floating like fish in the sea around it.  Once again, the Inquisition attempted to silence Galileo and forced him into an unwanted retirement.

At this point, the science revolution began to be strongly carried in England and Netherlands.  The commerce and inventions that went with scientific advances were the work of commoners, rather than monks and clergy.  Harvey studied blood circulation; Leewenhoek invented microbiology; Newton and dozens of others did mechanics; Boyle studied gases; Toricelli created vacuums and the barometer. 

Within 100 years, belief in witches and trolls, fairies and leprechauns, alchemy and spontaneous generation of mice had died out.  People’s thinking had changed.  They wanted evidence to go with belief.  They wanted to see the experiment. And so it is that we moderns now think differently than our ancestors of a few hundred years ago.  And thus the West exploded in technology and organization over the Middle East and the East. It was the invention of Science.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The real significance of Colombus, Part I

Colombus Day is coming next week.  For all my public school education, I was told that Colombus’s sailors thought the world was flat, but Colombus thought the world was round and thus became a hero when he was proven right. 

            Wrong on all counts.  The sailors knew the world was curved.  Just climb the mast, dummy, and see much farther land.  You are looking around the curve of the earth.  Every sailor knew this. What is less well known is that Colombus did not think the world was round.  He thought it was pear-shaped.  This is what scholars of the day taught.  And his heroism wasn’t in proving a round earth.  His discovery of land proved that the old Aristotelian model was untenable—but he never realized this. 

Here’s what really happened. The Scholastic scholars of his day held that the earth consisted in 4 somewhat concentric spheres according to the 4 elements of Aristotle.  Earth was the inner sphere, surrounded by water, air than fire.  But of course that would be Water World with oceans covering everything.  The obvious Eurasia-Africa earth system led them to postulate that the earth sphere was off-center and protruded through the oceans.  It was like a basketball inside a beach ball and the basketball poked the side of the beachball on one side giving a pear shape. Colombus proposed going to the Orient by sailing west and the pear earth model predicted nothing but water all the way to China.  Thus Colombus thought that Santa Domingo was an island offshore of Asia and in 3 subsequent voyages found Mexico and Central America.  He died thinking he had discovered Asia and proven the pear earth. 

Though Eurasia was high-standing, it was thought that as one progressed out into the open ocean, the sea rose (Aristotle said water was lighter!) Hence we still use the terminology of sailing the high seas. In 1503, the very jealous Amerigo Vespucci stole and published Colombus’s landfalls as his own.  Vespucci had proposed exactly the same kind of voyage as Colombus to Portugal and they refused to fund him.  So he felt cheated.  In 1507, Waldseemuller, a Dutch cartographer made a map of these landfalls and said, Look, This is either a very large island or a continent! Colombus found a continent where none should be.  Clearly something was wrong with the earth model. That would revolutionize thinking and invent the era of science in the century following.
Meanwhile, Colombus was granted governorship of Santa Domingo and he was a tyrant ruler who basically killed off the native population.  Thus the stage was set for repopulating the Caribbean with slaves from Africa to raise sugar cane.  But his discovery and all the gold of the conquistadors led British, Dutch, French to spur on their own voyages of discovery.